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Turkish De-Light

By Obadiah Malafia

I HAVE been to Turkey several times. Istanbul is a city that continues to fascinate me, with its colours, history and its unusual blend of Asia and Old Europe melded together in a unique cosmopolitan harmony. I love Ankara and Izmir.

I cherish the distant memories of Constantinople and the ruins of Byzantium. I am speechless each time I behold the glories of Hagia Sophia in Istanbul.

I have several emotional connections with Turkey. I have had close ties with one of the top business families in that country, namely, the Carmikli family who own the Nurol Group of Companies, a multibillion dollar industrial conglomerate in Turkey.

One of the great British historians during my student years was Norman Stone, who later moved to Turkey and has remained Professor of International Relations at Bilkent University.

I certainly did not like his conservative politics, being a close adviser and speechwriter to Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher. But then Stone was one of the most prescient historians of our epoch, having predicted the collapse of the old Soviet Empire and the demise of communism as a global ideological rival to Western liberal democracy at a time nobody expected it.

As it happens, I am also a lover of Turkish literature, in particular, the poetry of the medieval mystic and philosopher Mawlana Jalaladdin Muhammad Rumi and the contemporary novelist and Nobel laureate Orhan Pamuk. The Turkish people are friendly, warm and welcoming. Their kind of Islam is cosmopolitan and tolerant. The Turks are a highly civilised and proud people.

Turkey is a country with a rich and extraordinary history. Before the Islamic conquest of 1453, the country was known as Byzantium, which belonged to the eastern flank of Christendom, with its capital as Constantinople and influence extending as far as Russia, Ukraine, Greece and the Holy Mountain of Athos.

Byzantium was a glorious Christian kingdom which was defeated and taken over by the marauding Ottomans who descended from the wild steppes of Eurasia. The Ottomans became the terror of Europe, having conquered much of the Balkans; they were stopped only at the gates of Vienna in Vienna and Nantes in France.

Until their defeat in World War 1, the Ottomans were a world imperial power that had ruled much of Europe, Eurasia and extending as far as Egypt, Palestine, Arabia and North Africa and Tripolitania. The emergence of Kemal Ataturk as leader of the Turkish Republic set the country on the path of modernisation, secularisation and westernisation.

Modern Turkey has a population of 80 million, with a GDP of almost US$1 trillion and a per capita income of US$11,000. Economic reforms and sound public management have led to a stable currency, growing external reserves and a push towards high exports drive and an increasingly prominent role in international economic relations. Turkey has been a strong member of NATO and the Western alliance. Unfortunately, her application to join the EU has always met a dead end, largely due to human rights issues and the dominant role of the army in governance and the high-handed treatment of dissidents and Kurdish nationalists associated with the PKK.

The current leader of Turkey, Recep Tayyip Erdogan, has overseen a remarkable period of accelerated growth. He is no doubt a strong leader who has reshaped the constitution to give him a stronger role as leader of the country. His economic success has, unfortunately, been accompanied by a greater leaning towards authoritarianism as well as erosion of Turkey’s secular status and its identity as a centrist and moderate European country.

Turkey has been very hot in the news these days – for altogether negative reasons. It all began with a dispute over an obscure American missionary pastor by the name of Andrew Brunson who headed the Izmir Church of Resurrection in Izmir. Following the 2016 coup attempt that led to the loss of over 250 lives, the Erdogan government accused the American of supporting the exiled Islamist leader Fethullah Gulen as well as showing sympathy and aiding the Kurdish PKK terrorists. He was sentenced to 23 years in jail.

President Donald Trump took the decision to freeze the assets of some Turkish officials connected with the decision to jail the American pastor. The Turkish government retaliated in like manner against some American officials.

Compounding this diplomatic stand-off has been the recent decision by the Trump administration to launch a trade war against some of its major trading partners. In August 10, Washington slammed higher tariff duties on Turkish exports of steel and aluminium. President Donald Trump tweeted as follows: “I have just authorised a doubling of Tariffs on Steel and aluminium with respect to Turkey as their currency, the Turkish Lira, slides rapidly downward against our very strong Dollar! Aluminium will now be 20% and Steel 50%. Our relations with Turkey are not good at this time!”

The decision has plunged the Turkish economy into turmoil. The lira slumped to a low of 7.19 to the dollar, from 6.4 during the previous week.  From the beginning of this year, the Turkish lira has experienced a 45 percent fall against the dollar.

Financial markets around the world have felt the ripples. The Hang Seng Index in Hong Kong lost 1.5 percent of its market capitalisation.  The Nikkei in Tokyo nosedived by 2 percent while the FTSE Index in London saw some 0.5 percent wiped off its balances. The South African rand lost 7 percent of its while the Indian rupee went down to 69.8 percent against the dollar. By contrast, safe haven currencies such as the U.S. dollar, the Swiss franc and the Euro made some gains.

Meanwhile, finance minister Berat Albayrak is set to roll out a reform package to salvage the economy and restore confidence. Last week, the reserve bank of Turkey made some interventions to shore up the lira, but it had little effect, largely because markets no longer believe that the central bank is an independent and credible institution.

Turkey’s future as a member of the Western alliance and as a prospective candidate for membership of the European family of nations has become more uncertain than ever before. President Erdogan suffers from the hubris of indispensability. His drift towards the Arab world will render it a more difficult partner for the West. Over the past few years, Turkey has become an important trading partner for Nigeria and other African countries. During the 2016 coup attempt, President Erdogan accused Nigeria of harbouring some of his bitterest opponents by allowing them to set up schools, universities, hospitals and other businesses.

A Turkish businessman was allegedly apprehended not too longer ago for bringing in a shipment of arms into our country. Nigeria has become a free playing-field for all sorts of arms dealers and terrorist adventurers. In the building of the New Nigeria of our dreams, we would want to build solid win-win relations with Turkey and other emerging economies. But we should make sure we protect our national system from mindless adventurers.

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