Joint Center Publications

Sunday, 22 January 2017 00:00

Russia: an Enabler of Jihad?

Op-Ed, Wilfried Martens Centre for European Studies, January 16, 2017

Svante E. Cornell, Russia: an Enabler of Jihad?

Russia jihad

Russian officials have had to contain their glee in monitoring recent political events in America and Europe. They appear to think their days in the cold may soon be over. Much has been made of President-elect Donald Trump’s wish to improve relations with Moscow, but the last news out of France appears even more auspicious to Moscow.

The far-right candidate, Marine Le Pen, is known for her pro-Putin sympathies. Now, with François Fillon’s nomination as the center-right candidate, both major contenders in next year’s French presidential election are favorably disposed toward Russia.

These warmer feelings towards Russia are based, mainly, on changing threat perceptions in the West. Since the emergence of the Islamic State and the proliferation of terrorist attacks in Europe and America, many Europeans and Americans appear to view Moscow’s aggression against its neighbors, such as Ukraine and Georgia, as an increasingly esoteric problem.

Particularly after Russia’s intervention in Syria, even on the right many now view Russia not as a threat to the West but as a natural ally in defeating the jihadi threat.

While this notion is gaining popularity, it is at best the triumph of hope over experience, and at worst a dangerous delusion. Russia’s interaction with radical Islam over two decades shows that it is part of the problem, not the solution. In fact, leaders in Moscow have a track record of manipulating radical Islam whenever that has suited their purposes – including systematic collusion with Islamic extremists. A few examples illustrate this policy. Read more

 

Svante E. Cornell is Director of the Central Asia-Caucasus Institute & Silk Road Studies Program, a Joint Center affiliated with the Johns Hopkins University’s School of Advanced International Studies and the Stockholm-based Institute for Security and Development Policy.

Monday, 09 January 2017 00:00

Assassination in Ankara

Op-Ed, Foreign Affairs, January 3, 2017

Halil M. Karaveli, Assasination in Ankara

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On December 19, Mevlut Mert Altintas, a Turkish police officer, assassinated Andrei Karlov, Russia’s ambassador to Turkey. His action was apparently meant as retribution for Russian bombings in eastern Aleppo, and he is the latest in a string of right-wing terrorists in Turkeywhose acts have served to draw Ankara back toward the West. Less than two weeks after the assassination, in the early hours of January 1, a gunman believed to have been affiliated with the Islamic State (ISIS) killed at least 39 people at an Istanbul nightclub. If such attacks continue, as they very likely will, they could undermine Erdogan's grip on power, which is what the wave of terror is all about, even if the perpetrators differ. 

At this stage, it is impossible to know Altintas’ precise intention, whether he was a “lone wolf” or was directed by others, and what consequences the murder will have. But historical patterns offer some clues. First, Turkey has seen a long line of high-level assassinations carried out by the country’s right wing, made up of Sunni Islamists and Turkish nationalists, who have always been aligned in Turkish politics. The killers have typically had connections—a direct one in the case of Altintas, who was a riot police officer—with the country’s security agencies. Second, assassinations have tended to take place in particular geopolitical circumstances, namely whenever Turkey’s long-standing commitment to the Western security alliance has seemed to be in jeopardy. Read more

 

Essay, Foreign Affairs, November/December 2016 Issue

Halil M. Karaveli, Erdogan's Journey

erdojourney

What happened to Recep Tayyip Erdogan? The Turkish president came to power in 2003 promising economic and political liberalization. But under his rule, Turkey has instead moved in a profoundly illiberal, authoritarian direction—although not toward repressive Islamism, which some feared was Erdogan’s true agenda, given his background in Islamist politics. Rather, Erdogan has become something more akin to a traditional Middle Eastern strongman: consolidating personal power, purging rivals, and suppressing dissent.

Over the summer, it briefly appeared as if Erdogan might have overreached, when a group of military officers attempted to topple him—at the direction, Erdogan has insisted, of his erstwhile ally turned bitter foe Fethullah Gulen, an influential Turkish cleric based in the United States. But when the plotters struck, Erdogan was able to quickly rally support inside the armed forces and among the broader public and managed to put down the coup attempt with surprising ease. A subsequent crackdown has been swift and merciless: the government has jailed tens of thousands of alleged Gulenists, conducted a sweeping purge of the army and the state bureaucracy, shut down media outlets, and suspended thousands of academics. Erdogan’s response to the coup attempt has demonstrated that the president’s grip on power remains stronger than even many of his fiercest critics had assumed.

No one could have foreseen the coup or its aftermath. But even long before those events, it should have come as no surprise that Erdogan had failed to live up to the expectations of many liberals in Turkey and elsewhere who had initially hailed his ascent as a sign of progress. Erdogan never really aimed to make Turkey an Islamic state, but he also never wanted to liberalize it. Read more

 

Sunday, 02 October 2016 02:28

Azerbaijan Since Independence

Book, Routledge, 2011

Svante E. Cornell, Azerbaijan Since Independence

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Azerbaijan Since Independence offers a comprehensive intro- duction to modern Azerbaijan, a post-Soviet republic located on the western shore of the Caspian Sea. This small country has outsized importance due to its strategic location at the cross- roads of Europe and Asia, its energy wealth, and its historical experience as an early modernizer in the Muslim world.

The book begins with six chapters on Azerbaijan’s history from pre-Soviet times to the present, with an emphasis on the past twenty years. The next four chapters are thematic, covering the con ict over Karabakh, the political system, the oil-dominated economy, and societal changes and trends including the role of Islam. The remainder of the book surveys Azerbaijan’s foreign relations, with an analysis of the foreign- policy-making context complemented by chapters on relations with Iran, Russia, Turkey, and the West. The book closes with a brief epilogue discussing the country’s future. 

Svante E. Cornell is Director of the Central Asia-Caucasus Institute & Silk Road Studies Program, a Joint Center affiliated with the Johns Hopkins University’s School of Advanced International Studies and the Stockholm-based Institute for Security and Development Policy (ISDP).

See details and order the book from Routledge or on Amazon.com

Contents: 

Monday, 01 August 2016 00:00

Turkey's Fractured State

Op-Ed, The New York Times, August 1, 2016

Halil M. Karaveli, "Turkey's Fractured State"

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GOTHENBURG, Sweden — The Turkish military is known to be a stronghold of Kemalism, the secularist and nationalist ideology of the founder of Turkey, Mustafa Kemal Ataturk. So when the Islamic conservative Justice and Development Party, known as the A.K.P., came to power in 2002, many then feared that the military would stage a coup in the name of Kemalism.

Yet when a coup in Turkey did finally materialize, on July 15, it wasn’t Kemalists who were blamed, but the Gulenists, members of an Islamic fraternity led by the cleric Fethullah Gulen, who has lived in exile in the United States since 1999. President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, echoed by the Turkish military’s general staff, claimed that what they call the “Fethullah Gulen terrorist organization” was behind the failed ouster.

Read the complete article here.

Halil M. Karaveli is a senior fellow at the Central Asia-Caucasus Institute and the Silk Road Studies Program.

Wednesday, 20 July 2016 00:00

Is Turkey Becoming a Banana Republic?

Article, The Turkey Analyst, July 20, 2016

Svante E. Cornell, "Is Turkey Becoming a Banana Republic?"

The failed military coup in Turkey provides a window into just how unstable and vulnerable Turkey has become. The coup is a unique but not isolated event, more than anything a symptom of the decay of Turkish state institutions under Erdogan. The sizable post-coup repression will make matters worse, in fact increasing rather than decreasing the risk of further violence, including a new coup. Turkey is now more a problem in its own right than an ally to help solve regional problems.

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Wilfried Martens Centre for European Studies, July 19, 2016

Svante E. Cornell, "A botched coup and Turkey’s descent into madness"

martens-cornell

A lot remains unclear regarding the attempted coup that shook Turkey. But it is possible to draw some preliminary conclusions about its background and implications.

The coup was not planned and implemented within the chain of command. The Chief of General Staff and the heads of the crucial First Army and Special Forces remained loyal to the government. This, not people on the street, was the key reason the coup failed. Not least, it allowed President Erdogan to slip out of Marmaris before being caught and to get to Istanbul.

The coup appears to have been hastily put together and poorly implemented. The failure to seize or liquidate the president, cabinet, and vital communication infrastructure made it possible for Erdogan to regain the initiative. This suggests that the plotters’ hands were forced, and that the coup was launched prematurely. There are suggestions that a list was leaked before the coup of officers scheduled for discharge and arrest, which could have precipitated the coup, explaining the lack of proper preparation.

The most vexing question concerns the exact identity of the coup plotters. Who were the architects behind what appears on the surface to be a faceless, even leaderless coup? The Turkish government is pointing fingers at the Fethullah Gülen movement – something that may seem counter-intuitive, because it was precisely Erodgan’s confrontation with them two years ago that led him to let the military back in from the cold and rebuild for himself a ruling coalition much more right-wing nationalist in nature, united by the struggle against the Kurds.

But that said, it has long been assumed that Gülenist cliques were present in the military at mid-career ranks. But no one believes that Gülenist officers had risen to the ranks of three or four star generals. Thus, while it is very likely that Gülenist officers were involved, it is equally obvious that they could not have carried this out on their own. The more senior generals apparently involved do not seem to have any Gülenist affiliations.

Hence, the coup may have been carried out by an unholy alliance between a faction of old-school Kemalist and Gülenist officers. If this is the case, it would mean that while Erdogan allied with the top military brass against the Gülenists, another military fraction allied with the Gülenists against Erdogan.

This is what Turkey has come to: its politics in the past few years can best be understood as a struggle for power between two Islamic sects. In the process, Turkey’s military appears now to have at least three separate fractions and to be much more politicized and divided than has been assumed.

A further important aspect of the coup was President Erdogan’s response: he mobilised his supporters through the use of Islamic rhetoric that would have been unthinkable even five years ago. Mosques were ordered by the State religious directorate, which Erdogan has built up into a behemoth, to broadcast calls for prayer all through the night and to call regime supporters out on the streets. Often, the call appears to have been framed as “Jihad”.

And indeed, those who came out to oppose the coup almost exclusively looked like Islamist activists singing Islamist chants. It is already apparent that President Erdogan has concluded that Islamist mobilisation was what saved him, hence the remaining inhibitions against further Islamisation of Turkey will dissipate. Erdogan’s Turkey is likely to more openly deploy Islamist rhetoric and policies.

The Gülen fraternity’s alleged responsibility for the coup is already being used as pretext for a full-scale purge of state institutions. Unlike previous occasions, the coup gives Erdogan the opportunity to arrest and jail opponents by the thousands. It is already clear that repression will spread beyond Gülenists: entire lists of scholars, journalists and officials to be jailed have already been leaked. Whatever is left of Turkish democracy is about to be neutralised, and if Erdogan completes this repressive purge, it goes without saying that Turkey can no longer be called a democracy.

The failed coup will have important foreign policy implications. Erdogan and his entourage have long believed the Gülen fraternity to be following Washington’s orders, and senior government officials have already suggested that the U.S. was behind the coup. Erdogan appears to be making extradition of Gülen a litmus test of the U.S.-Turkish alliance, a demand that will likely not be granted, given the lack of any kind of concrete evidence. In fact, the involvement of Gülenist officers does not necessary implicate the ailing preacher himself in the coup.

In any case, the U.S.-Turkish relationships has been put at risk, and Secretary John Kerry’s threat of consequences for Turkey’s NATO membership has shown that perhaps Washington is tiring of Erdogan’s antics. The most likely immediate point of contention will be the Incirlik military base, which the U.S. uses to hit ISIS targets in Syria.

Similarly, Turkey-EU relations will be impacted, most immediately because it is hard to imagine how the EU will now go ahead with visa liberalisation. In turn, that likely puts the cynical migration deal between Brussels and Ankara to death. If Turkey reinstates the death penalty, which is quite plausible, Turkish-EU relations are likely to deteriorate even further.

In conclusion, it is important to see the coup attempt as an indication of the deeper decay of the Turkish state under Erdogan’s rule. As Erdogan has sought to concentrate power in his own hands, the exercise of power has become increasingly informal, all checks and balances removed, and all institutions including his own political party increasingly ineffectual. This made the coup possible in the first place, and future coups can be avoided only if Turkey develops strong, accountable democratic institutions.

But instead, under Erdogan’s personal rule, Turkey’s destabilisation is likely to continue. Thus, European leaders now need to see what has been obvious for some time: rather than an ally with which to handle regional problems, Turkey will itself increasingly be the problem.

 

Svante E. Cornell is Director of the Central Asia-Caucasus Institute & Silk Road Studies Program, a Joint Center affiliated with the Johns Hopkins University’s School of Advanced International Studies and the Stockholm-based Institute for Security and Development Policy.

European View, June 2016, Volume 15, Issue 1, pp 97–109

Svante E. Cornell, The fallacy of ‘compartmentalisation’: the West and Russia from Ukraine to Syria

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In the post-Soviet space as well as the Middle East, Western leaders have largely failed to heed ample evidence that the goals of the Russian leadership are fundamentally opposed to those of the EU and the US. Whereas Moscow seeks to counter Western influence and roll back the US’s role in the world, the West has proposed a win–win approach, seeking to convince Moscow that its ‘true’ interests should lead it to cooperate with the West. When this has not worked, Western leaders have ‘compartmentalised’, isolating areas of agreement from areas of disagreement. This approach has come to the end of the road because the assumptions that undergird it are false. So long as Western powers fail to understand the fundamental incompatibility of their interests with the deeply anti-Western interests of the current power brokers in the Kremlin, they are unlikely to develop policies that achieve success.

Click to read

Svante E. Cornell is Director of the Central Asia-Caucasus Institute & Silk Road Studies Program, a Joint Center affiliated with the Johns Hopkins University’s School of Advanced International Studies and the Stockholm-based Institute for Security and Development Policy.

Wednesday, 27 April 2016 23:46

Turkiet i desperat säkerhetspolitiskt läge

Svenska Dagbladet, April 3, 2016.

Svante Cornell, Turkiet i desperat säkerhetspolitiskt läge

Turkiet har gjort en kovändning. Från att ha varit en stark kritiker av västvärlden har president Erdogan nu till och med närmat sig Israel. Två faktorer förklarar detta lappkast – Turkiets misslyckande i Mellanöstern och den förändrade maktbalansen i Ankara.

Click to read.

Svante E. Cornell is Director of the Central Asia-Caucasus Institute & Silk Road Studies Program, a Joint Center affiliated with the Johns Hopkins University’s School of Advanced International Studies and the Stockholm-based Institute for Security and Development Policy.

Wednesday, 13 April 2016 23:58

Vladimir Putin’s Next European Front

sc-nk-wsjApril 6, 2016

THE WALL STREET JOURNAL

Vladimir Putin's Next European Front

By Svante Cornell

Clashes between Azerbaijan and Armenia this week claimed at least 60 lives in the most intense fighting between the neighbors since a 1994 cease-fire “froze” their conflict. Tensions seemed to de-escalate by Wednesday, but clearly the war between Azeris and Armenians is no longer frozen. At stake is the future of a sensitive region dominated by the Kremlin and crisscrossed by Eurasia’s larger political and ideological faultlines.

Tuesday, 29 March 2016 11:32

NATO Must Demand More From Turkey

more-from-turkeyMarch 29, 2016

THE NEW YORK TIMES

NATO Must Demand More From Turkey

By Halil M. Karaveli

Turkey has always been an awkward NATO member. Since it joined in 1952, the country has rarely lived up to official alliance standards of democracy and human rights. During most of this time, Turkey has been ruled by authoritarian governments. Even when elected governments were in power, Turkey was at best an illiberal “democracy” as right-wing authoritarianism and rigid nationalism were always influential. In that sense, there is nothing that is new with Turkey’s authoritarian “drift” today.

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