With the power of the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS, or, as it now calls itself, the Islamic State) growing and the amount of territory it controls increasing, Ankara is now facing some uncomfortable questions about what role it played in facilitating the organization's rise.
In a Washington Post piece from last week, reporters Anthony Faiola and Souad Mekhennet provide a fascinating insight into this issue, visiting Reyhanli, a Turkish town on the Syrian border where until recently ISIS fighters had the run of the place. From their article:
Before their blitz into Iraq earned them the title of the Middle East’s most feared insurgency, the jihadists of the Islamic State treated this Turkish town near the Syrian border as their own personal shopping mall.
And eager to aid any and all enemies of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, Turkey rolled out the red carpet.
In dusty market stalls, among the baklava shops and kebab stands, locals talk of Islamist fighters openly stocking up on uniforms and the latest Samsung smartphones. Wounded jihadists from the Islamic State and the al-Nusra Front — an al-Qaeda offshoot also fighting the Syrian government — were treated at Turkish hospitals. Most important, the Turks winked as Reyhanli and other Turkish towns became way stations for moving foreign fighters and arms across the border.
While European and North American food producers might be worried about the sting of Russia's new ban on western produce, Turkish exporters could soon be celebrating.
As the Wall Street Journal reports, Moscow's ban -- enacted in response to western sanctions on Russia to punish it for its role in the current crisis in Ukraine -- is providing Turkey with an opportunity for expanding its agricultural exports:
Russian President Vladimir Putin's decision last week to block certain food imports from the European Union and the U.S. is a potential boon for Turkey just as Islamist insurgents in Iraq choke off trade to key markets for Turkish goods. Exporting food to Russia could also help make up for slowly recovering demand from the EU, Turkey's biggest market.
Shipping more fruit, vegetables and dairy products would also aid Turkey in plugging an annual trade deficit of about $20 billion with Russia.
"This is 100% positive, we need to seize this opportunity, Russia can devour everything we produce," said Ahmet Ozer, vice president of the general assembly at the Istanbul Chamber of Commerce. "We don't have energy like Russia, but we have agriculture, water and farmlands; we must work them and sell our produce."
Last year, Turkey sold $7 billion worth of goods to Russia, which Mr. Ozer said could jump by 25% as Moscow turns to Ankara, among others, for food it previously imported from Australia, Canada, Norway, the U.S. and the EU.
It says something about Recep Tayyip Erdogan's political audacity and his Justice and Development Party's (AKP) marketing chutzpah that despite the Turkish leader having served as prime minister for some twelve years they were still able to sell his victory in yesterday's presidential election as the starting point for a "New Turkey." After over a decade of thoroughly dominating Turkey's political scene, there is certainly very little that is new about Erdogan.
Erdogan's win does signal something new, and that is another chapter in what by now is the long-running story of the mercurial leader's very public quest for increased power. With his ascendancy to the president's office assured, Erdogan is now faced with some new challenges: namely, how to enhance his powers despite the constraints placed on the president by the constitution and Turkey's existing parliamentary system, and how to restructure the government so that this goal is best served and the AKP stays in power past the next parliamentary elections.
In a new briefing, the Washington Institute for Near East Policy's Turkey expert, Soner Cagaptay, lists the current powers available to the Turkish president -- from chairing cabinet meetings to vetoing bills -- and suggests Erdogan will push those to the limit (if not beyond) to maintain his dominance:
With the battle against the militants of the Islamic State (IS) heating up in Iraq and Turkey -- along with the United States and other countries -- getting involved by providing support for the Kurdish forces fighting there, it's clear that regional foreign policy questions will dominate Ankara's agenda for the foreseeable future.
As Turks head to polls on Sunday to elect a new president, a vote Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan expected to win, the question now is what might Turkish foreign policy during his presidency look like, especially considering that Erdogan is widely expected to even further consolidate his power once he takes office?
Writing in The National Interest, analyst Sinan Ulgen lays out the fairly serious foreign policy challenges that Turkey's next president will face:
Turkey’s new government will also inherit a difficult foreign-policy portfolio. Erdogan’s initial vision to normalize the county’s relationships with its Southern neighbors and to position Turkey as a regional power interested in advancing peace and prosperity by emphasizing economic cooperation and mediation allowed Ankara to gain substantial ground. But Turkish policy makers misinterpreted the extent of the country’s growing soft-power influence by becoming overconfident about their ability to shape regional dynamics.
Kaymak, the beguiling Turkish version of clotted cream, seems to have a magical effect on people, leaving them longing for more days, even weeks and months, after they've tasted it.
Even more magical is the cloud-like kaymak doled out at Beşiktaş Kaymakcisi, an Istanbul institution better known as Pando's. Run by 92-year-old Pandelli Shestakof, the small shop has been in the family since 1895 and serves up what is perhaps Istanbul's most iconic plate of kaymak and honey, a breakfast combination that is awfully hard to beat.
Recently, some unsettling news has popped up: it appears that Pando's landlord is ordering the kaymak maker to vacate the premises so that they can be renovated an turned into a snack bar. Culinary Backstreets reports:
Late last month, Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan took part in the opening ceremony of a new soccer stadium in Istanbul. Rather than simply cut a ribbon, Erdogan -- a standout amateur soccer player in his youth -- put on a team jersey and went down to the field to play a friendly match. After his team fell behind by three points in the match, which was being broadcast live on television, the 60-year-old PM incredibly found a way to score three goals in 15 minutes, against a goalkeeper who plays in Turkey's top tier professional league no less.
As Turkey heads towards a presidential vote this Sunday -- the first one in which the people, rather than parliament, will elect the new president -- Erdogan's hat-trick performance seems emblematic of the way the campaign has been playing out. Despite the presence of two other substantive candidates, Erdogan has been dominating the field, receiving the lion's share of the state television broadcaster's attention. A fawning pro-government press, meanwhile, has been dutifully reporting about the PM's every move and utterance, imbuing them with an almost otherworldy quality (in the case of Erdogan's soccer game performance, one paper declared "his style was likened by some....to Barca star Lionel Messi.").
With Russia and Ukraine facing off over the fate of the small separatist region in eastern Ukraine supported by Moscow, the two countries have been using food policy as a way to punish each other.
This Russian-Ukrainian food fight actually already started last year, when Moscow banned the import of a popular line of Ukrainian chocolates, apparently to punish Kiev's overtures to Europe. In response, the Ukrainian government put a halt to the import of certain Russian sweets.
But with things heating up in eastern Ukraine, so is the use of food import restrictions as a weapon. In late July, Kiev banned the import of Russian pork products, citing a concern about the presence in Asian Swine Flu in certain regions in Russia. Not to be outdone, Moscow soon after announced a ban on Ukrainian soy and a few other agricultural products due to "a breach of phytosanitary requirements" (whatever that means).
But recent moves by the Kremlin are dragging Ukraine's neighbors into the food battle. After the European Union announced new sanctions against Russia last week, Moscow retaliated by announcing a ban on most fruit and vegetable imports from EU-member Poland. The move, the Kremlin said, was due to "sanitary reasons" and could be extended to the entire EU.
For Poland, the ban is serious business, as Reuters explains:
Salty and rubbery, halloumi -- the national cheese of Cyprus -- hardly seems to be the kind of thing people would fight about. But, considering the historical divisions on the island, which has been split into Greek and Turkish sides since 1974, perhaps its not surprising that humble halloumi has been dragged into the Cyprus conflict.
As previously mentioned on this blog, Greek and Turkish Cypriots have been fighting over who gets to claim halloumi (or "hellim," as it's called on the Turkish side) as their own, with Greek Cypriots having put in a request with the European Union to give the cheese Protected Designation of Origin (PDO) status. That would mean that only cheese from Cyprus could be given that name. Similar protection is offered to Stilton cheese from England and other European cheeses and food products.
The trouble is that because of the island's division, Turkish Cypriots are concerned that the designation will only apply to halloumi made on the Greek side, which is a member of the EU. With the PDO applicaiton in process, the fight over halloumi is heating up, as the Cyprus Mail reports:
The agriculture ministry is the responsible authority for the inspection of halloumi cheese and the Turkish Cypriot Chamber of Industry (KIBSO) cannot be inspectors for production in the north, said minister Nicos Kouyialis yesterday.
The last few years have seen Ankara's regional role in the Middle East become severly diminished as its relations with one neighbor after another went downhill. But could the current war in Gaza between Hamas and Israel offer Turkey a chance to reassert its regional relevance?
The promise of that happening is certainly there, especially after Turkish Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu was included in a mini-summit this past Saturday in Paris that brought him together with Secretary of State John Kerry and the foreign ministers of Qatar, France, Germany, Italy and the U.K. in a failed effort to create a ceasefire in Gaza.
The inclusion of Turkey made certain sense, since -- like Qatar -- it is has been a strong supporter of Hamas in recent years and is considered to have an open line to the organization's leadership. Ankara has also been showing its support for Gaza in material terms, recently sending some 17 tons of medicine to the besieged area and also providing funding for fuel for Gaza's only power plant.
Perhaps the most prominent recent trend in Turkish winemaking is producers complaining about how much new regulations on the sale and marketing of their product is hurting their industry's growth.
The complaints are not unwarranted. As previously discussed on this blog, new regulations enacted last year severely limit how and where alcohol producers can promote their beverages, to the point that wineries have had to cancel wine-tasting events for fear that they will somehow go against the new rules.
In spite of this development, wineries in the Thrace region -- one of Turkey's best winemaking areas -- have joined together to create what might be the country's most developed wine route. The trail covers some twelve wineries, some of them quite promising. A detailed review of some of the route's stop can be found here and a downloadable guide with maps here.