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Viewing cable 04ANKARA7211, ERDOGAN AND AK PARTY AFTER TWO YEARS IN POWER:

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Reference ID Created Released Classification Origin
04ANKARA7211 2004-12-30 05:05 2010-11-28 18:06 SECRET Embassy Ankara
This record is a partial extract of the original cable. The full text of the original cable is not available.
S E C R E T SECTION 01 OF 05 ANKARA 007211 
 
SIPDIS 
 
E.O. 12958: DECL: 12/14/2029 
TAGS: PREL PGOV PINS ECON TU
SUBJECT: ERDOGAN AND AK PARTY AFTER TWO YEARS IN POWER: 
TRYING TO GET A GRIP ON THEMSELVES, ON TURKEY, ON EUROPE 
 
(U) Classified by Ambassador Eric Edelman; reasons: E.O. 
12958 1.4 (a,b,c,d). 
 
1. (C) Summary: PM Erdogan and his ruling AK Party seem to 
have a firm grip on power -- if for no other reasons that 
there is currently no viable alternative and inertia weighs 
heavily in politics.  Nevertheless, Erdogan and his party 
face enormous challenges if they are successfully to embrace 
core principles of open society, carry out EU harmonization, 
and develop and implement foreign policies in harmony with 
core U.S. interests.  End summary. 
 
2. (C) As PM Erdogan strode through the EU corridors of power 
Dec. 16-17 with his semi-pro soccer player's swagger and 
phalanx of sycophantic advisors, he may have seemed a strong 
candidate for European leader of the year.  A regional leader 
to be reckoned with for a decade to come.  The man who won 
Turkey the beginning of accession negotiations with the EU. 
Who broke loose three decades of frozen Turkish policy on 
Cyprus.  Who drove major human rights reforms through 
parliament and through constitutional amendments.  Whose 
rhetorical skill, while etched with populist victimhood, is 
redolent with traditional and religious allusions that 
resonate deeply in the heartland, deeply in the anonymous 
exurban sprawls.  Who remains the highly popular tribune of 
the people, without a viable or discernible political 
rival...outside his own ruling AKP. 
 
3. (C) In short, Erdogan looks unbeatable.  But is he?  And 
is he willing to give relations with the U.S. the leadership 
and momentum they need from the Turkish side? 
 
4. (C) Erdogan has a two-thirds majority in parliament.  Main 
opposition left-of-center CHP amounts to no more than a bunch 
of elitist ankle-biters.  There is currently no serious, 
broad-based political alternative, owing to Erdogan's 
rhetorical dominance and control of the debate on social 
questions close to the hearts of the center-right majority in 
Turkey; other party leaders' political bankruptcy; and the 
stultifying effect of current party and election laws on 
entry for younger, untainted political aspirants.  AKP argues 
that the economy, at least from the perspective of macro 
indicators and continued willingness of emerging-market 
portfolio investors to buy the expectations and sell the 
facts, appears to have stabilized.  Moreover, the authority 
of AKP's nationwide party machine is blurring with the 
Turkish State's executive power at the provincial and 
district level and with municipal functions to an extent not 
seen since the days of the one-party state.  These factors 
seem set to continue for the foreseeable future. 
 
5. (C) Yet Erdogan and AKP face politically fateful 
challenges in three areas: foreign policy (EU, Iraq, Cyprus); 
quality and sustainability of leadership and governance; and 
resolution of questions fundamental to creation of an open, 
prosperous society integrated with the broader world (place 
of religion; identity and history; rule of law). 
 
EU 
-- 
 
6. (U) Erdogan indexed his political survival to getting a 
negotiation date from the EU.  He achieved that goal.  The 
Wall Street Journal and other Western and Turkish media have 
opined that the EU owes Turkey a fair negotiating process 
leading to accession, with the Journal even putting the onus 
on the EU by asserting that while Turkey is ready the 
question is whether Europeans are ready for Turkey. 
 
7. (C) But there's always a Monday morning and the debate on 
the ground here is not so neat.  With euphoria at getting a 
date having faded in 48 hours, Erdogan's political survival 
and the difficulty of the tasks before him have become 
substantially clearer.  Nationalists on right and left have 
resumed accusations that Erdogan sold out Turkish national 
interests (Cyprus) and Turkish traditions.  Core institutions 
of the Turkish state, which remain at best wary of AKP, have 
once again begun to probe for weaknesses and to feed 
insinuations into the press in parallel with the 
nationalists' assertions.  In the face of this Euro-aversion, 
neither Erdogan nor his government has taken even minimal 
steps to prepare the bureaucracy or public opinion to begin 
tackling the fundamental -- some Turks would say insidious -- 
legal, social, intellectual and spiritual changes that must 
occur to turn harmonization on paper into true reform.  The 
road ahead will surely be hard. 
 
8. (U) High-profile naysayers like main opposition CHP 
chairman Baykal, former Ambassador Gunduz Aktan, and 
political scientist Hasan Unal continue to castigate Erdogan. 
 But theirs is a routine whine.  More significant for us is 
that many of our contacts cloak their lack of self-confidence 
at Turkey's ability to join in expressions of skepticism that 
the EU will let Turkey in.  And there is parallel widespread 
skepticism that the EU will be around in attractive form in 
ten years. 
 
9. (C) The mood in AKP is no brighter, with one of FonMin 
Gul's MFA advisors having described to UK polcounselor how 
bruised Turkey feels at the EU's inconsistency during the 
final negotiations leading to Dec. 17 (EU diplomats in Ankara 
have given us the other side of the story).  Gul was 
noticeably harder-line than Erdogan in public comments in the 
lead-up to the Summit, and was harder-line in pre-Summit 
negotiations in Brussels, according to UK polcounselor. 
There was noticeable tension between Erdogan and Gul in 
Brussels according to "Aksam" Ankara bureau chief Nuray 
Basaran.  She also noted to us that when negotiations seemed 
to have frozen up on Dec. 17, Erdogan's advisors got phone 
calls from Putin advisors urging Turkey to walk.  Basaran 
says that at least some of Erdogan's advisors urged him to do 
so. 
 
10. (C) AKP's lack of cohesion as a party and lack of 
openness as a government is reflected in the range of murky, 
muddled motives for wanting to join the EU we have 
encountered among those AKPers who say they favor pursuing 
membership...or at least the process.  Some see the process 
as the way to marginalize the Turkish military and what 
remains of the arid "secularism" of Kemalism.  We have also 
run into the rarely openly-spoken, but widespread belief 
among adherents of the Turk-Islam synthesis that Turkey's 
role is to spread Islam in Europe, "to take back Andalusia 
and avenge the defeat at the siege of Vienna in 1683" as one 
participant in a recent meeting at AKP's main think tank put 
it.  This thinking parallels the logic behind the approach of 
FonMin Gul ally and chief foreign policy advisor in the Prime 
Ministry Ahmet Davutoglu, whose muddy opinion piece in the 
Dec. 13 International Herald Tribune is in essence a call for 
one-way multi-cultural tolerance, i.e., on the part of the EU. 
 
11. (C) Those from the more overtly religious side of AKP 
whinge that the EU is a Christian club.  While some assert 
that it is only through Turkish membership and spread of 
Turkish values that the world can avoid the clash of 
civilizations they allege the West is fomenting, others 
express concern that harmonization and membership will water 
down Islam and associated traditions in Turkey.  Indeed, as 
AKP whip Sadullah Ergin confided to us recently, "If the EU 
says yes, everything will look rosy for a short while.  Then 
the real difficulties will start for AKP.  If the EU says no, 
it will be initially difficult, but much easier over the long 
run." 
 
12. (C) AKP also faces the nuts-and-bolts issue of how to 
prepare for harmonization.  In choosing a chief negotiator 
Erdogan will need to decide whether the risks that the man he 
taps will successfully steal his political limelight outweigh 
the political challenge his choice will face since it will be 
the Turkish chief negotiator's responsibility to sell the EU 
position to a recalcitrant Turkish cabinet.  It is because 
the chief negotiator is likely to be ground down between EU 
demands and a prickly domestic environment that some 
observers speculate Erdogan might give the job to his chief 
internal rival Gul. 
 
13. (C) At the same time the government must reportedly hire 
a couple thousand people skilled in English or other major EU 
languages and up to the bureaucratic demands of interfacing 
with the Eurocrats who descend on ministries as harmonization 
starts.  If the government continues to hire on the basis of 
"one of us", i.e., from the Sunni brotherhood and lodge 
milieu that has been serving as the pool for AKP's civil 
service hiring, lack of competence will be a problem.  If the 
government hires on the base of competence, its new hires 
will be frustrated by the incompetence of AKP's previous 
hires at all levels. 
 
Questions About AKP Leadership and Governance 
--------------------------------------------- 
 
14. (C) Several factors will continue to degrade Erdogan's 
and AKP's ability to effect fair and lasting reforms or to 
take timely, positive decisions on issues of importance to 
the U.S. 
 
15. (C) First is Erdogan's character. 
 
16. (C) In our contacts in Anatolia we have not yet detected 
that Erdogan's hunger for absolute power and for the material 
benefits of power have begun to erode his grassroots 
popularity.  Others disagree.  Pollster and political analyst 
Ismail Yildiz has asserted in three lengthy expositions to us 
late in Dec. that the erosion has started.  We note that (1) 
Yildiz expressed frustration to us that the AKP leadership 
did not respond to his offer to provide political strategy 
services; (2) he is currently connected to mainstream 
opposition figures; and (3) he also runs a conspiracy-theory 
web site.  So we treat his view cautiously.  However, judging 
by his references and past experience in the Turkish State, 
he appears to have maintained conncetions with the State 
apparatus and to have a network of observers and data 
collectors in all 81 provinces. 
 
17. (C) Inside the party, Erdogan's hunger for power reveals 
itself in a sharp authoritarian style and deep distrust of 
others: as a former spiritual advisor to Erdogan and his wife 
Emine put it, "Tayyip Bey believes in God...but doesn't trust 
him."  In surrounding himself with an iron ring of 
sycophantic (but contemptuous) advisors, Erdogan has isolated 
himself from a flow of reliable information, which partially 
explains his failure to understand the context -- or real 
facts -- of the U.S. operations in Tel Afar, Fallujah, and 
elsewhere and his susceptibility to Islamist theories.  With 
regard to Islamist influences on Erdogan, DefMin Gonul, who 
is a conservative but worldly Muslim, recently described Gul 
associate Davutoglu to us as "exceptionally dangerous." 
Erdogan's other foreign policy advisors (Cuneyd Zapsu, Egemen 
Bagis, Omer Celik, along with Mucahit Arslan and chef de 
cabinet Hikmet Bulduk) are despised as inadequate, out of 
touch and corrupt by all our AKP contacts from ministers to 
MPs and party intellectuals. 
 
18. (C) Erdogan's pragmatism serves him well but he lacks 
vision.  He and his principal AKP advisors, as well as FonMin 
Gul and other ranking AKP officials, also lack analytic 
depth.  He relies on poor-quality intel and on media 
disinformation.  With the narrow world-view and wariness that 
lingers from his Sunni brotherhood and lodge background, he 
ducks his public relations responsibilities.  He (and those 
around him, including FonMin Gul) indulge in pronounced 
pro-Sunni prejudices and in emotional reactions that prevent 
the development of coherent, practical domestic or foreign 
policies. 
 
19. (C) Erdogan has compounded his isolation by constantly 
traveling abroad -- reportedly 75 foreign trips in the past 
two years -- with a new series of trips planned for 2005 to 
Russia, "Eurasia", the Middle East and Africa.  Indeed, his 
staff says 2005 is the "year of Africa", but they provide no 
coherent reason why.  This grueling cycle of travel has 
exhausted him and his staff and disrupted his ability to keep 
his hand on the tiller of party, parliamentary group, and 
government.  He has alienated many in the AKP parliamentary 
group by his habit of harshly chewing out MPs.  Moreover, we 
understand that MUSIAD, an Anatolia-wide group of businessmen 
influential in Islamist circles who gave Erdogan key 
financial support as AKP campaigned prior to the 2002 
elections, is disaffected by Erdogan's unapproachability. 
Judging by comments to us of insiders in the influential 
Islamist lodge of Fethullah Gulen such as publicist 
Abdurrahman Celik, the lodge, which has made some inroads 
into AKP (Minister of Justice Cicek, Minister of Culture and 
Tourism Mumcu; perhaps 60-80 of 368 MPs; some appointments to 
the bureaucracy), has resumed the ambivalent attitude it 
initially had toward Erdogan and AKP. 
 
20. (C) Second is the coalition nature of AKP, the limited 
number of ministers whom Erdogan trusts, and the efforts of 
some -- principally FonMin Gul but from time to time Cicek -- 
to undermine Erdogan.  No one else in AKP comes close to 
Erdogan in grassroots popularity.  However, Gul's readiness 
to deprecate Erdogan within AKP and even to foreign visitors 
(e.g., Israeli deputy PM Olmert) and his efforts to reduce 
Erdogan's maneuvering room with hard-line criticisms of U.S. 
policy in Iraq or EU policy on Cyprus have forced Erdogan 
constantly to look over his shoulder and in turn to prove his 
credentials by making statements inimical to good 
U.S.-Turkish relations.  We expect Erdogan to carry out a 
partial cabinet reshuffle early in 2005, but he will be 
unable to remove the influence of Gul. 
 
21. (S) Third is corruption.  AKP swept to power by promising 
to root out corruption.  However, in increasing numbers 
AKPers from ministers on down, and people close to the party, 
are telling us of conflicts of interest or serious corruption 
in the party at the national, provincial and local level and 
among close family members of ministers.  We have heard from 
two contacts that Erdogan has eight accounts in Swiss banks; 
his explanations that his wealth comes from the wedding 
presents guests gave his son and that a Turkish businessman 
is paying the educational expenses of all four Erdogan 
children in the U.S. purely altruistically are lame. 
 
22. (S) Among the many figures mentioned to us as prominently 
involved in corruption are Minister of Interior Aksu, 
Minister of Foreign Trade Tuzmen, and AKP Istanbul provincial 
chairman Muezzinoglu.  As we understand it from a contact in 
the intel directorate of Turkish National Police, a 
continuing investigation into Muezzinoglu's extortion racket 
and other activities has already produced evidence 
incriminating Erdogan.  In our contacts across Anatolia we 
have detected no willingness yet at the grassroots level to 
look closely at Erdogan or the party in this regard, but the 
trend is a time bomb. 
 
23. (S) Fourth is the poor quality of Erdogan's and AKP's 
appointments to the Turkish bureaucracy, at party 
headquarters, and as party mayoral candidates.  A broad range 
of senior career civil servants, including DefMin Gonul, 
former Undersecretary of Customs Nevzat Saygilioglu, former 
Forestry DirGen Abdurrahman Sagkaya, and many others, has 
expressed shock and dismay to us at the incompetence, 
prejudices and ignorance of appointees such as Omer Dincer, 
an Islamist academic whom Erdogan appointed Undersecretary of 
the Prime Ministry, THE key position in the government/state 
bureaucracy.  Dincer is despised by the TGS.  Many 
interlocutors also point to the weakness of Erdogan's deputy 
party chairmen.  The result is that, unlike former leaders 
such as Turgut Ozal or Suleyman Demirel, both of whom 
appointed skilled figures who could speak authoritatively for 
their bosses as their party general secretary and as 
Undersecretary of the Prime Ministry, Erdogan has left 
himself without people who can relieve him of the burden of 
day-to-day management or who can ensure effective, productive 
channels to the heart of the party and the heart of the 
Turkish state. 
 
Two Big Questions 
----------------- 
 
24. (C) Turkey's EU bid has brought forth reams of 
pronouncements and articles -- Mustafa Akyol's 
Gulenist-tinged "Thanksgiving for Turkey" in Dec. 27 Weekly 
Standard is one of the latest -- attempting to portray Islam 
in Turkey as distinctively moderate and tolerant with a 
strong mystical (Sufi) underpinning.  Certainly, one can see 
in Turkey's theology faculties some attempts to wrestle with 
the problems of critical thinking, free will, and precedent 
(ictihad), attempts which, compared to what goes on in 
theology faculties in the Arab world, may appear relatively 
progressive. 
 
25. (C) However, the broad, rubber-meets-the-road reality is 
that Islam in Turkey is caught in a vise of (1) 100 years of 
"secular" pressure to hide itself from public view, (2) 
pressure and competition from brotherhoods and lodges to 
follow their narrow, occult "true way", and (3) the faction- 
and positivism-ridden aridity of the Religious Affairs 
Directorate (Diyanet).  As a result, Islam as it is lived in 
Turkey is stultified, riddled with hypocrisy, ignorant and 
intolerant of other religions' presence in Turkey, and unable 
to eject those who would politicize it in a radical, 
anti-Western way.  Imams are for the most part poorly 
educated and all too ready to insinuate anti-Western, 
anti-Christian or anti-Jewish sentiments into their sermons. 
Exceptionally few Muslims in Turkey have the courage to 
challenge conventional Sunni thinking about jihad or, e.g., 
verses in the Repentance shura of the Koran which have for so 
long been used to justify violence against "infidels". 
 
26. (C) The problem is compounded by the willingness of 
politicians such as Gul to play elusively with politicized 
Islam.  Until Turkey ensures that the humanist strain in 
Islam prevails here, Islam in Turkey will remain a troubled, 
defensive force, hypocritical to an extreme degree and 
unwilling to adapt to the challenges of open society. 
 
27. (C) A second question is the relation of Turkey and its 
citizens to history -- the history of this land and citizens' 
individual history.  Subject to rigid taboos, denial, fears, 
and mandatory gross distortions, the study of history and 
practice of historiography in the Republic of Turkey remind 
one of an old Soviet academic joke: the faculty party chief 
assembles his party cadres and, warning against various 
ideological threats, proclaims, "The future is certain.  It's 
only that damned past that keeps changing." 
 
28. (C) Until Turkey can reconcile itself to its past, 
including the troubling aspects of its Ottoman past, in free 
and open debate, how will Turkey reconcile itself to the 
concept and practice of reconciliation in the EU?  How will 
it have the self confidence to take decisions and formulate 
policies responsive to U.S. interests?  Some in AKP are 
joining what is still only a handful of others to take 
tentative, but nonetheless inspiring, steps in this regard. 
However, the road ahead will require a massive overhaul of 
education, the introduction and acceptance of rule of law, 
and a fundamental redefinition of the relation between 
citizen and state.  In the words of the great (Alevi) 
Anatolian bard Asik Veysel, this is a "long and delicate 
road." 
 
29. (U) Baghdad minimize considered. 
EDELMAN