03/25/2009, 00.00
TURKEY – IRAQ
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Gul’s Iraq visit breathes new life in Ottoman model

by NAT da Polis
Bilateral issues, starting with terrorism, are at the centre of talks between Gul and Talabani. Pressures are on Turkey to participate in Erbil conference on Kurdish question. Moderate Islamist AKP is seen as a new Ottoman model, reconciling Muslims to parliamentarism and shielding against extremist temptations.
Istanbul (AsiaNews) – For the first time in 33 years a Turkish head of state has visited Iraq. Under tight security President Abdullah Gul began an official visit to Turkey’s southern neighbour, an event that has generated widespread interest in the Turkish media and highlighted Ankara’s newfound role in the Middle East and the Islamic world, renewing a tradition that goes back to Ottoman times.

In their meetings Gul and Iraqi President Jalal Talabani, (pictured) focused on bilateral issues like transport, energy and the fight against terrorism.

President Gul also insisted that terrorism and bloodshed must stop and Iraq’s territorial integrity must be protected. Only when Turkey and Iraq fully cooperate can the Kurdish Workers’ Party (PKK), which is fighting for independence in south-eastern Turkey, be stopped, a responsibility that falls on the Kurdistan regional administration in northern Iraq.

On this score Gul is optimistic that the goal can be achieved.

President Talabani acknowledged that the PKK does influence Turkish-Iraqi relations. He too believes that the Kurdish Workers’ Party must lay down its guns or leave Iraq.

Turkey for its part will support an upcoming conference on the Kurdish question set for April in Ebril (northern Iraq) so long as the PPK is not invited.

A three-way debate is currently underway between Ankara, Baghdad and certainly Washington, with the latter trying its best to get the Turks to attend the conference.

Masoud Barzani, who is the president of Iraqi Kurdistan, was not present at the talks between Gul and Talabani.

Whatever the immediate outcome of these talks, Gul’s visit highlights Turkey’s new role in the Middle East, which precedes the new US administration taking office.

According to the Radikal newspaper, which cited Arab sources, Turkey under the government of moderate Islamist ‘Justice and Development Party’ (AKP) represents a new Ottoman model, in which Islamists play the card of parliamentary politics and provide a shield against any extremist temptations.

It is no accident that last Saturday, 21 March, Nowruz (Kurdish New Year), President Gul inaugurated Avaz,  a new Turkish channel broadcasting in various Turkic dialects spoken in some 30 countries in the Balkans, Central Asia and the Caucasus.

On 1 April, a day before US President Barack Obama is scheduled to visit Turkey, broadcasting in Armenian and Kurdish will also begin.

Many observers in Istanbul’s diplomatic and media circles are saying that the Kemalist model, based on ethnic homogeneity, is being quietly replaced by one founded on the country’s Islamic heritage, a kind of soft-core Turkish republicanism; at least for now.

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