< Light Millennium: "The rules have changed..." A Speech by Nuri ÇOLAKOGLU
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"The rules have changed,
the field has changed,
and even the game has changed.

Turkish House, New York City, March 2000. Photo: Bircan Ünver

A Speech by Nuri ÇOLAKOGLU *

The American Turkish Society (ATS) organized a panel discussion which titled, "Examining the Political Divide in U.S. - Turkish Relations" on November 19, 2003 in New York City. The participants of the panel were Nuri Çolakoglu, Dogan Media Group; Melih Kaylan, The Wall Street Journal, and Asli Aydintasbas, Sabah Daily Newspaper. The panel moderated by Dr. Keith Weissman, American-Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC).

We are greatful to Mr. Çolakoglu for sharing his speech
with us based on the panel discussion.


Since the days leading to the U.S.-Iraq War, U.S. Turkish relations have experienced strains from failures of statecraft and diplomacy on both sides.  With Turkish public opinion against the war and American political cartoonists stirring ire on both sides of the Atlantic, the atmosphere between the two long-time allies had reached a low-point last spring. Recently, however, the mood seems to be lifted. Both countries face critical strategic issues in the region: the struggle against terrorism, the stabilization of Iraq, the pursuit of Arab-Israeli peace, and the future of democracy, to name a few. To deal with these, both countries appear to have realized that they need each other. 

Turkish-American relations have been going on a rollercoaster ride for the last 40 years after a very strong commencement some 60 years ago. At the end of the Second World War US had come to Turkey's help to fend off Stalin's territorial demands on northeastern Anatolia and Truman Doctrine and Marshall Plan helped to improve the living conditions in the impoverished country. Turkey responded by sending troops to Korea to fight side by side the American GIs. Turkey had been labeled US's most loyal and staunch ally and this continued until the events in Cyprus.

Rollercoaster ride started in 67 when President Johnson's letter was leaked to the Turkish press. Johnson was warning Turkey not to use the American weapons in Cyprus if she wants to exercise her right to intervene into the troublesome island, the scene of clashes between Greek and Turkish communities.

This came as a shock and led to an escalation in the anti-American riots already fueled by the War in Vietnam. But even more severe crises erupted ten years later when the US imposed an arms embargo on Turkey after Turkey’s intervention to Cyprus in 74. The relations had never been the same. Even one of the most pro-American politicians like Suleyman Demirel pointed his finger at the CIA for the military coup that toppled him and put an end to the parliamentary regime in 1971. 

However 80s were the years of making up and the Turkish American relations got getter and better. During the first Gulf War Turkey did not contribute troops but gave all the necessary logistic support and played a major role as a base for surveillance flights over Iraq. President Clinton's visit to Turkey after the earthquake of 99 the amelioration in the relations hit the peak.

Very pleasant developments followed. Washington's leaning heavily on the EU members to recognize the candidature of Turkey for full membership to EU went down well. US came along like a knight on a white horse to help Turkey out of its most severe economic crises two years ago. All these reflected positively on bilateral relations.

The Turkish American Business Council meetings in Washington were the most crowded of all the similar happenings. Turkey was at US's side during the Afghan War and accepted to take over the command of the peace keeping force while all NATO allies were shying away.

Then came the Iraqi War – In the Iraqi crises when US's top priority was to remove Saddam Hussein, the question that boggled Turkey's mind was what was to happen after Saddam?

The main element in Turkey's policy in Iraq has always been what will come of the northern Iraq. Lack of a central authority in Iraq could have led to independent Kurdish state which in due time could come up with territorial demands from Turkey.

Already the no fly zone of 90s in the north had given the Kurds a semi autonomous status with their own militia, flag and money. Turkey has always been worried about these developments. Looking back in history and remembering the chain of events from 1925 Sheikh Said revolt to PKK insurgency of 80s that cost 35,000 lives - she was right in doing so.

At the beginning of the year, US was in a dilemma - she needed both the Turks and Kurds for a second front in the north but neither of her potential partners wanted the other. As Washington was trying to negotiate a formula that would be acceptable by all parties, Turkish parliament helped her out by refusing to give permission to Turkish army's participation in the military operation. And the war developed far more swiftly than anybody had expected. Of course the Kurds in the north had their way as partners of the victors.

Turkey's uneasiness over the non recognition of the Turcoman entity in the north, attempts to change the population structure, raiding of the public records offices to destroy evidences that can substantiate Turcoman claims all sent bad signals to Ankara. But the worst of all was the event in Suleymaniyah. Turkish troops had been there for nearly two decades to monitor and control the activities of the PKK militants. And the raid of one of their headquarters and taking away some officers and soldiers handcuffed and with a bag over their heads was too much.

But still goodwill prevailed and when the US asked for troops, Turkish government after a little hesitation but with a nicely planned parliamentary tactic managed to secure the authorization to send troops to Iraq as peacekeepers. But as the Turkish parliament was taking a vote on the issue news reached Ankara from Baghdad that the provisional government of Iraq did not want any Turkish troops on its soil. This put the US on a hot seat and after lengthy negotiations to persuade Iraqis, the US administration was forced to turn around to Turkey and say that they do not really need Turkish troops.

So we have a problematic situation and this is reflected on the recent polls. I would like to quote a poll by Pew Research Center for the people & the Press. Pew has been carrying these polls for the last two years in many countries including Turkey. It also uses the State Department's polls for previous years.

When we look at the percentage of Turks who look at the US favorably we see that it was 52% in 1999/2000 but came down to 30% in summer of 2002, in March with Iraqi War it went down even further to 12% and in June 2003 after the war was over, it picked up very little - 15%.

Why – because 88% of the Turks believe that the allies did not care too much for civilian causalities.

While 37% of Turks believe that Iraq will better with Saddam, those who believe it will be worse off are 45%.

Those who believe allies are addressing the people’s needs are 23% while those who think the opposite is 63%.

Then what is the problem – Those who say America in general is the problem is 33%, those who say the problem is the Bush administration is 52% and 12% believe both of them are to be blamed.

Two days ago I was sitting on panel in NY with some ten distinguished international journalists from UK, France, India, Africa etc and some leading figures of the American media discussing these issues.

Most of the international journalists indicated that the unilateralism, arrogance of the American administration had played an adverse role in this negative image of the US. When I can do it on my own why bother to ask others attitude seemed to be the problem for many.

This attitude of Washington is not helping a lot in the Turkish-American relations as well. Bringing down all the pre-war negotiations to horse trading and giving the impression of it’s all about money did not go down well in Turkey.

At the beginning of the war some columnists like William Safire had said that the high death toll among the US troops would be result of Turkey’s attitude. And today as the US meets more problems in Iraq there will be some to blame Turkey.

But the situation in the world has changed dramatically. At the end of the Second World War US set its strategic goals as doing away with communism, doing away with Soviet Union and doing away with the Warsaw Bloc. In 1990 much to the surprise of everybody including the Americans all these took place nearly overnight. That left us with a single super power world. The rules have changed, the field has changed, and even the game has changed. I believe it will take time for this situation to sink in not only on the world but also on the Americans as well. How quickly everybody will adapt to this new situation can show us how quickly the peace, prosperity and better relations we all yearn for.

* * *

* A Brief Biography of Nuri ÇOLAKOGLU

Nuri Colakoglu completed high school at Robert College, Istanbul, Turkey and got his BA degree in International Relations at the Faculty of Political Sciences of Ankara University. He has been working as a professional journalist and broadcaster since 1965.

He began his career in the public broadcaster TRT’s newsroom; went on to work as foreing ediot of a local (news agency; served as stringer to German news agency DPA, Swedish Television and German radio WDR; worked in London at the BBC World Service between 1980-1986; and was appointed as the news editor of the leading Turkish Daily Milliyet.

Since 1989 Mr. Çolakoglu has been involved solely with television. He was appointed as number two to TRT (Turkish Radio Television), the public broadcaster; launched Show TV, the second private TV in Turkey (1992); then launched Cine 5, the only pay-TV in Turkey (1993); worked as moderator to political debate shows, and launched NTV news channel.

Since July 2000, Mr. Çolakoglu has been Chairman & CEO of the NMC New Media Company TV & Advertisement Co., based in Istanbul, Turkey. In October 2001, Mr. Çolakoglu became general director of CNN-Turk, based in Istanbul, Turkey. Today he is Broadcast and Print Media Coordinator at Dogan Media Group.

_ . _

TV in Turkey p.I
TV in Turkey & NTV, p.II
Presentation by Nuri Çolakoglu

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