Could Turkey be nearing a resolution of its Kurdish problem? The March 21 ceasefire announcement from Abdullah Ocalan, the jailed leader of the Kurdistan Workers' Party (PKK), has certainly raised hopes of a resolution. The optimism, however, masks significant obstacles, not least of which is the fact that Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan faces structural incentives that could undermine his motivation to pursue peace as strongly and urgently as might be wished. The process could easily breakdown amid recrimination and a return to violence.
Turkey's Justice and Development Party (AKP)-led government and the PKK have been negotiating for several months. The authorities have allowed some members of the pro-Kurdish Peace and Democracy Party (BDP) to visit Ocalan in jail and communicate his position to the rest of the PKK's leadership, and the broad outlines of a deal are slowly emerging. The PKK will gradually pull back its nearly 2,000 armed militants operating in Turkish territory. In the meantime, the AKP and the BDP will start negotiations on a new constitution and revisions to Turkey's legal framework needed to ensure equal treatment for Kurds. The final stage would be the normalization of relations. Both sides will continue to maintain momentum by making small-scale concessions, though significant steps will have to wait until the PKK has fully withdrawn from Turkish territory.
For both sides, a ceasefire offers significant potential benefits and little downside, at least in the near term. The Turkish population is more inclined to consider a peace deal than at any time in the past few decades. Erdogan would reap considerable electoral benefit from resolving the long-standing violence and tension (though there would be little fallout if the deal were to break down). The BDP would gain electorally for improving, even if only marginally, Turkey's legislative framework regarding the Kurdish minority. The PKK leadership would avoid fighting on two fronts simultaneously given developments in northern Syria-while also giving their militants time to recover from the effects of the violent 2012 campaign in south-eastern Turkey. And then there are more intangible factors: The PKK leaders are thought to be tired of life on the run, and Ocalan too is believed to be angling for house arrest rather than jail.
But despite the momentum and the benefits from a ceasefire, peace could founder on one of several issues. While the mood in the country is promising, there is a wide gap between Kurdish demands and what the government can realistically concede ahead of the upcoming elections. There is also a very real danger that some factions in the PKK and the broader Kurdish movement may feel betrayed by the final deal between the government and Ocalan. That disappointment could trigger a resumption of PKK insurgency.
The most immediate challenge, though, will be implementing the PKK's withdrawal without violence, particularly given that a law assuring their safety appears unlikely at this point. The Turkish military as well as nationalist groups will find it very difficult to allow armed PKK militants to simply leave for safety in northern Iraq. And the PKK will not consider giving up their weapons, especially given the situation in Syria.
Finally, there are concerns about the process. Neither the government nor the Kurdish nationalists have any real experience in handling peace talks and the compressed time frame of less than one year to withdraw troops and write a new constitution significantly increases the complexity. Similar developments in other parts of the world took many years to complete and there is no guarantee that either side will be able to manage any potential moments of tension.
Naz Masraff is an analyst with Eurasia Group's Europe practice.
Note: Today is the first in a series of posts that detail Eurasia Group's Top Risks for 2013.
Since the onset of the financial crisis in 2008, investors and companies have focused mainly on risks in developed world markets. But as conditions in the U.S. and Europe continue to improve in 2013, the most worrisome risks will again come from emerging market countries. These countries are fundamentally less stable than their developed world counterparts, and some of their governments used a period of favorable commodities prices and the benefits from earlier reform to avoid the tough choices needed to reach the next stage of their political and economic development.
Some of these emerging market nations face more difficult challenges than others, and much depends on the degree of political capital each leader will have in order to make unpopular but necessary changes. These countries can be divided into three broad categories according to the complexity and immediacy of the risks they face and the longer-term upside they offer.
The first category includes the best bets:
The second category of emerging market economies are at risk of considerable volatility.
Lastly, there are the underperformers, those countries where risks will overshadow returns.
On Friday, we'll profile Risk #2: China vs Information.
HOANG DINH NAM/AFP/Getty Images
By Naz Masraff
With civil war in Syria, turmoil in Gaza, Arab Spring aftershocks, and the still simmering conflict over Iran's nuclear program competing for headlines, it's easy for outsiders to overlook another of the region's most intractable ethnic conflicts-Turkey's internal battle with Kurdish separatists. This story deserves attention, because it remains the primary security threat inside the region's most politically modern and economically dynamic country.
First, some background. In 2010, Turkey began secret talks with the Kurdistan Workers' Party, a militant group better known by its acronym PKK. But in the run-up to June 2011 elections, Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan brought them to a halt. Erdogan's Justice and Development Party (AKP) won those elections, securing nearly half the popular vote and a third successive term in power, and the newly emboldened prime minister has since adopted a relentlessly hardline attitude on Kurdish questions with a pledge to use Turkey's military to crush the PKK.
Since the beginning of 2011, several thousand Kurdish nationalists have been arrested on charges of PKK membership. In October, public prosecutors in Ankara launched a judicial investigation into the pro-Kurdish Peace and Democracy Party (BDP).
In July, the PKK launched a new phase in its
28-year insurgency, intensifying attacks on Turkey's security forces and
working to create "no go" zones in designated areas in the mountains
near Turkey's border with Iraq. The stated goal is to intensify pressure on
Turkey's government to introduce greater Kurdish language rights and to cede
many of the powers of the central government to local Kurdish authorities in
southeast Turkey in a process Kurdish nationalists call ‘democratic autonomy.'
The PKK scored territorial gains in August and early September and have held on to some of them, and it's clear that the PKK is now stronger than at any time since the 1990s.
Military activity has slowed since mid-October when the mountain passes along its main infiltration and supply routes became blocked with snow. But the PKK then continued its progress by launching a series of hunger strikes inside Turkish prisons, beginning in September with 63 Kurdish inmates. The number of hunger strikers quickly grew to nearly 700 people, including seven members of parliament. Strikers demanded an end to the ban on the use of Kurdish language in courts and as the primary language used by teachers in schools in the predominantly Kurdish southeast. They also called for respect for Kurds' democratic rights and an end to the isolation of PKK founder Abdullah Ocalan, who has been incarcerated on the prison island of Imrali since 1999. In late October, Kurdish nationalist organizations began staging protest rallies across the country, triggering clashes between demonstrators and police, and fights between ethnic Kurds and Turkish ultranationalists in western Turkey. Turkish media, wary of antagonizing the government, downplayed the growing violence-though a few incidents injured too many people to ignore.
Turkey's government was slow to react, at least publicly, and downplayed the strikes. Speaking in October during a visit to Germany, Erdogan insisted that only one of the hunger strikes was authentic and that others were mainly "for show."
Behind the scenes, however, Turkish officials knew they had a growing problem to contain. The PKK now appears to have won concessions on the right of Kurds to defend themselves in court in their native language-that's expected to be adopted in parliament soon-and a step has been taken to eliminate Ocalan's isolation, in part by granting his family a visit. This brought an appeal from Ocalan to halt the hunger strikes, and on Sunday, they came to an end.
Yet, the risk of violence continues, and the turmoil in Syria has complicated matters further. Syrian forces have withdrawn from Kurdish areas in northern Syria, creating a de facto autonomous Kurdish regime over the past few months, and PKK leaders can exploit this power vacuum. For the moment, Turkish authorities want to avoid direct military involvement in Syria's troubles, but a sustained wave of PKK attacks on Turkey's security forces from inside Syria might still change their minds.
If the longer-term underlying issues fueling Kurdish separatism can be resolved, it is only with a comprehensive political process. Yet, Turkey's government -- like governments around the world -- is unwilling to negotiate with militants while they continue to launch attacks. This is particularly the case as Turks may go to the polls as many as four times in the next three years, including for a referendum on the constitution, as well as for local, presidential, and parliamentary elections. On the eve of these polls, the government is likely to adopt increasingly nationalistic rhetoric, shying away from taking steps to resolve the Kurdish issue through democratic means.
In short, the hunger strikes have ended, and the protests may die down. But there will be no peace in Turkey's southeast until the two sides can compromise their way toward a lasting political settlement.
By Naz Masraff
The recent move to breathe new life into Turkey's stalled EU accession process is unlikely to have much effect beyond providing Ankara with a minor domestic and international public relations boost. On 17 May, Turkey's EU minister and chief negotiator Egemen Bagis and European Commissioner for Enlargement Stefan Fule launched what they dubbed a positive agenda for EU-Turkish relations. The agenda introduces new mechanisms for communication, including specific working groups, intended to accelerate Turkey's compliance with the acquis communitaire in eight chapters, including two that are blocked for political reasons. But the efforts are insufficient to counter the underlying structural problems impeding Turkey's now long-stalled EU accession.
Turkish authorities have not opened any new chapters of the EU acquis since 2010; talks on 18 of the 34 chapters cannot move ahead because of political issues and open ones cannot be provisionally closed. An important obstacle continues to be Turkey's failure to move on politically difficult reforms needed to bring the country's laws in line with European standards, especially on the judiciary and fundamental rights. Bagis's statements suggesting that Turkey would be in full compliance with the EU acquis by 2014 are largely political rhetoric with little substance.
Cyprus is a huge stumbling block. U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon has decided not to call a follow-up international conference on Cyprus because there has been no advance since the January talks on the issue. This makes it impossible for the conflict to be resolved before July, when the Republic of Cyprus (RoC) government assumes the EU presidency. Turkey will freeze its relations with the EU presidency for six months in protest, though contacts with the European Commission and the European Parliament will continue.
The RoC's exploration for hydrocarbons in the eastern Mediterranean has exacerbated its contentious relations with Turkey. Turkey claims some areas included in the RoC's new licensing round for further explorations extend onto Turkey's continental shelf, and that any revenues must be shared with the Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus (TRNC). While the dispute is not likely to escalate into a military conflict, Turkey may continue its gunboat diplomacy, further intensifying tensions. Turkey is now also considering fallback options including pressing other Muslim states to recognize the TRNC.
The new agenda may not result in major advances on EU accession, but it will give the Turkish government some advantages. Ankara can secure public recognition from the EU and boost its domestic popularity even when minor steps are taken. The effort also has bureaucratic advantages, providing another way for both the Turkish Ministry for EU Affairs and the European Commission's Turkey desk, the largest desk operating under the Directorate-General for Enlargement, to justify their existence.
Naz Masraff is an associate with Eurasia Group's Europe Practice.
By Ayham Kamel
Recent, though futile, efforts to resolve the crisis in Syria have demonstrated the absence of leadership from global powers such as the U.S. and likely set the stage for possible contagion. The unwillingness of the major powers to intervene in crises such as in Syria -- a marker of what Eurasia Group has called the G-Zero World -- has allowed regional players to step into the breach, notably Qatar via the Arab League. But the League's efforts have also exposed a regional power vacuum and tensions among Middle East nations that could potentially escalate into a proxy war in Syria.
The Arab League's late-January initiative called on President Bashar al-Assad to step down, leaving the vice president to negotiate with the opposition, but it reflects neither the complexity of the Syrian conflict nor the domestic power balance. For example, the opposition is still deeply divided and there is still considerable support for the regime among business interests and some minorities. The Syrian regime is likely to retain power throughout most of 2012, but the risk of collapse will rise considerably in the last quarter.
Other players have taken advantage of major powers' unwillingness to get involved in Syria. Qatar has been pushing for more hawkish Arab League policy on Syria, but the organization lacks the power to push through such initiatives. Turkey, Iran, and Saudi Arabia have also staked out a role. But, the lack of interest in producing a negotiated solution effectively means that the Syrian regime can disregard the Arab League on many issues.
Divisions in the League between Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) states and other members also limit the group's ability to formulate and pursue effective policies. The 24 January decision by the GCC to withdraw monitors from Syria highlights this division. Both Egypt and Algeria, traditionally important players in the organization, are uncomfortable with what is increasingly seen as Qatari and Saudi dominance. In the near term, Egypt's leverage will likely decrease given its own political transition, but major stakeholders (such as the military and the Muslim Brotherhood) will eventually seek a more proactive foreign policy. Within the GCC, there is also a subtle, but important, tension between Qatar and Saudi Arabia. Saudi royals are wary of Qatari calls for direct military intervention as a tool for democratic reform in Syria or any other Arab countries, a precedent that could be later used against Riyadh.
Syria is a key part of the regional balance of power between moderate pro-U.S. states and the so called resistance camp lead by Iran. Seeking a broader realignment in the Middle East, regional powers are likely to increase their support of their local allies. Saudi Arabia, Turkey, and Qatar are actively encouraging the uprising driven by conservative Sunnis. Meanwhile, Iran is providing the Assad regime with intelligence, and technological equipment to suppress the uprising.
The Syrian conflict has fanned Sunni-Shiia tensions and the risks of contagion in Lebanon, Jordan, and Iraq are considerable. In Iraq, Sunnis are emboldened by a resurgence of conservative movements across the Middle East. Lebanon could become more unstable as the Syrian conflict has divided political factions in an increasingly delicate struggle. Jordan's own communities could reconsider their allegiance to the Hashemite monarchy as communal divisions between Jordanians of Palestinian descent and tribal elites begin to increase. Potential Syrian or Iranian support to Kurdish separatist groups in Turkey is likely to become a problematic issue. Finally, covert action by either the Sunni axis (Saudi Arabia, Qatar, and the Arab League) or Shiias (Iran and Iraq) entails significant risks to regional stability and could spur a violent proxy war that would hurt the business environment and oil flows.
Ayham Kamel is an analyst in Eurasia Group's Middle East practice.
DON EMMERT/AFP/Getty Images
By Wolfango Piccoli
Recent opinion polls suggest that Turkey's Justice and Development Party (AKP) is on course to win a third successive term with a comfortable parliamentary majority at the June 12 general elections. However, Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan appears unlikely to achieve his goal of securing the 367 seats necessary to modify the constitution without a referendum. That result would set the stage for an acrimonious political struggle in the aftermath of the election given the AKP's apparent determination to change the constitution and increase the powers of the president. Such volatility could hamper efforts to boost the economy, while also impeding Turkish efforts to boost its international reputation.
Opinion polls show support for the AKP is running at 45-48 percent, ahead of the Republican People's Party (CHP) at 25-28 percent and the Nationalist Action Party (MHP) at 12-14 percent. However, the pro-Kurdish Peace and Democracy Party (BDP) is expected to perform strongly in predominantly Kurdish areas. Its candidates are running as independents in order to sidestep a requirement that political parties win at least 10 percent of the national vote in order to win representation in parliament. The BDP could take around 25 seats, up from 19 in the current parliament.
When combined with the expected improvement in the performance of the CHP, the increase in the number of BDP deputies is likely to mean that the AKP will need at least 50 percent of the popular vote in order to win the same number of seats as it did in 2007. If voting tracks the current opinion polls, the AKP is likely to win around 310-335 seats. While this is a comfortable majority (276 votes are required for a simple majority), it is far short of the supermajority it is looking for. The only real way the AKP could win the supermajority is if the MHP falls below the 10 percent threshold and fails to obtain representation in parliament and if the BDP performs poorly in the southeast.
The AKP, however, appears determined to attempt constitutional reform. Its election manifesto, announced on April 16, declares that its first priority will be a new constitution. EU accession efforts, however, are effectively dead. Erdogan has made it clear that he wants to replace the current parliamentary system with a presidential one. He is then expected to attempt to win that post for two consecutive five-year terms.
Even if Erdogan fails to introduce a presidential system, a new constitution could still provoke volatility. Kurdish nationalists are demanding that it eliminate any mention of Turkish ethnicity. Any such initiative would provoke a furious reaction both from opposition Turkish nationalists and the Turkish nationalist wing of the AKP. Similarly, any attempt to amend the first four clauses of the current constitution -- theoretically unalterable -- would result in mass protests from Kemalists and a possible application to the Constitutional Court for the new draft to be annulled.
If, as seems likely, the AKP does not secure the hoped-for supermajority, politics in Turkey after the June election will almost instantly focus on the constitutional referendum and take the government's focus away from pressing economic issues and its efforts to boost the country's international profile.
Wolfango Piccoli is a director with Eurasia Group's Europe Practice.
ADEM ALTAN/AFP/Getty Images
By Eurasia Group's Middle East practice
Predictions of coming market booms in the Middle East have a long history of proving overly optimistic, but there are reasons to believe that this year will be different. Clear positive signs are emerging in several countries and in multiple sectors. At the macro level, the region will benefit from upward pressures on energy prices and from the broader phenomenon of large-scale capital inflows into emerging markets.
Many countries in the Middle East -- including the United Arab Emirates, Iraq, Saudi Arabia, and Egypt -- are positioned to take advantage of these trends. Despite Dubai's drawn-out and still incomplete recovery, the UAE will remain the region's most dynamic economy. Investment in energy, petrochemicals, infrastructure, real estate, and education will drive its growth. Politically, Abu Dhabi has strengthened its influence and economic coordination between the emirates is now the norm. Dubai's financial troubles may not be completely over, but the economic and political situation in the UAE will continue to improve in 2011, in part because Abu Dhabi remains in a strong fiscal position.
Iraq will see massive new investment in its oil sector and infrastructure building. The country's myriad challenges cannot be underestimated, and the risk of sliding back toward violence remains, but Iraq now has a viable path forward. Its new government, led by Prime Minister Nouri al Maliki, has representation from all of Iraq's ethnic, sectarian, and political groups; and project work on the country's massive southern oil fields is set to ramp up quickly.
Infrastructure and energy investment will drive growth in Saudi Arabia, which is poised for a strong 2011. Saudi officials are justifiably confident about the direction of their economy. Riyadh is attempting to manage global oil prices unilaterally and does not want prices to rise to unsustainable levels; it would not want to be blamed for contributing to a double-dip recession if the global economy slows again.
Egypt, despite political uncertainty ahead of its September 2011 presidential election, will build on years of strong growth -- buoyed by investment in the energy sector, tourism, remittances, and increased traffic through the Suez Canal. Unemployment, however, will remain one of the top socioeconomic concerns, and something that opposition parties will try to seize on in order to gain popularity.
One of the most interesting political developments in the region will be Turkey's continuing emergence as a significant economic and diplomatic regional player. Long aligned with Israel, and more politically oriented toward Europe than the Middle East, Ankara is in the midst of a significant rebalancing. The effects of a more active Turkey in the Middle East will become clearer during 2011. Economically, Turkish businesses will look to invest and work in countries and regions that Western firms view as too risky, such as Iraqi Kurdistan. Politically, Turkey could emerge as an intermediary between the West and Iran, as well as a regional counterweight to the Islamic Republic.
This post was written by analysts in Eurasia Group's Middle East practice.
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For more than half a century, relations between Israel and Turkey have provided a degree of stability in the turbulent politics of the Middle East. Turkey was among the first majority-Muslim states to recognize Israel in 1948, and the two countries have profited from bilateral trade and military cooperation ever since. Unfortunately for Israel, things are changing.
It's not that current tensions between them will destroy their commercial relationship. Turkey remains Israel's top trade partner in the region. Nor is it that Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan's Justice and Development Party (AKP)-led government will move Turkey into some sort of anti-Israeli alliance with Iran and Syria. Turkey remains a member of NATO. And though accession talks on European Union membership are going nowhere, neither side wants to abandon efforts to bring Turkey and Europe closer together.
Yet, there's a change underway in Turkey's regional role, a shift rooted in the country's bitter internal politics, and it's not one that Israel will like. Erdogan and the AKP have seen their popularity eroded over time as the party's battle with Turkey's secularist establishment in the military, business community, and media has polarized the political class and dominated the country's agenda. But like so many leaders over time and around the world, Erdogan has discovered that foreign-policy accomplishments that raise a country's international profile can bolster a government's standing at home.
Recent international developments have added to Turkey regional clout. The U.S. regional presence is waning as U.S. troops are rapidly withdrawn from Iraq. Europe is too fully occupied with problems within the Eurozone to take up the slack as Washington redeploys. Regional players like Egypt and Saudi Arabia are distracted to some degree by questions of political succession. It will be years before Iraq's government has the self-confidence to play its traditional regional role. Though Iran's government has forced the opposition off the streets, the turmoil of the past year has done lasting damage.
This leaves Turkey in a
strong position. It's one of very few countries with influence in both Washington and Tehran.
Expectations for robust economic growth -- the Organization for Economic Cooperation and
Development (OECD) forecasts an average of 6.7 percent per year between 2011
and 2017 -- bolster the government's self-confidence and the country's
reputation as a rising regional powerbroker.
This is bad news for Israel. At Davos in January 2009, Erdogan won widespread praise among critics of Israel by storming off stage following a heated exchange over Gaza with Israeli President Shimon Peres. This spring, Turkey burnished its geopolitical credentials by joining Brazil in a plan to end the international standoff over Iran's nuclear program -- and in voting no on U.S. and European-sponsored U.N. sanctions on Tehran. When an Israeli raid on a flotilla of ships trying to break a blockade of supplies to Gaza killed nine Turkish activists last month, Erdogan again won international applause by denouncing the attack as a "bloody massacre."
The risk is real that Erdogan will make good on threats to cut off diplomatic relations with Israel. There's not much Israel can do about it, and officials in Tel Aviv are mainly downplaying the problem to avoid making matters worse for economic relations. But they know well that Erdogan is looking to play a higher-profile, more independent role in Middle East politic -- and that Turkey is a friend that Israel can ill afford to lose.
Ian Bremmer is president of Eurasia Group and author of The End of the Free Market: Who Wins the War Between States and Corporations?
ADEM ALTAN/AFP/Getty Images
For the sixth time in less than four years, the U.N. Security Council has voted to impose new sanctions on Iran in connection with its nuclear program. Nothing new there. U.S. officials wanted stronger measures, but the Chinese in particular pushed back hard. Nothing new there either. The sanctions, which are still significantly tougher than earlier models and include tightened restrictions on arms sales, new headaches for Iranian shipping, and an assault on the finances of the Revolutionary Guard and about 40 Iranian companies, will not persuade Iran's government to renounce its nuclear ambitions. Nor is there anything new there.
The real news is that Turkey and Brazil voted no. That's a diplomatic coup for Tehran, which in five previous UNSC votes had won virtually no support. Qatar voted no on the first round of sanctions in July 2006. Indonesia abstained on the fourth round in March 2008. Support from regional heavyweights like Turkey and Brazil (and an abstention from Lebanon) give Iran something tangible to build on as its embattled government works to ease its isolation and to persuade other governments to resist U.S. and European calls for further sanctions outside the U.N. process.
President Ahmadinejad's recent dance card-a Russia/Turkey summit on security just before the sanctions vote and a trip to Beijing just after-illustrates the value of that strategy.
But there's a larger point here about the current state of international politics. It's getting harder for Washington to exercise international leadership. With 10 percent unemployment, an ambitious legislative agenda, an oil spill, and mid-term elections to worry about, President Obama has limited time and energy to invest in grand strategy on foreign policy. Managing geopolitical risk has also become much more complicated in a world that has shifted from a G7 model of international leadership to a G20 model that brings countries like Brazil and Turkey to the international bargaining table. And there is no emerging power willing and able to fill the gap left by new limits on American power and resources, because European powers, China, Russia and others who might lead on key transnational issues are likewise occupied with complex challenges at home.
In other words, no one is really steering this ship, and we can't expect it to sail smoothly through troubled waters.
Ian Bremmer is president of Eurasia Group and author of The End of the Free Market: Who Wins the War Between States and Corporations?
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The Call, from Ian Bremmer, uses cutting-edge political science to predict the political future -- and how it will shape the global economy.