INDEPENDENT NEWS

Cablegate: Pm Erdogan Raises Hopes of Minority Community

Published: Mon 17 Aug 2009 01:54 PM
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INFO RUEHZL/EUROPEAN POLITICAL COLLECTIVE
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C O N F I D E N T I A L SECTION 01 OF 02 ISTANBUL 000323
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C O R R E C T E D C O P Y (ADDED CLASSIFIED BY AND REASON)
E.O. 12958: DECL: 08/17/2019
TAGS: PHUM PREL PGOV TU OSCE GR
SUBJECT: PM ERDOGAN RAISES HOPES OF MINORITY COMMUNITY
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Classified by: DPO Win Dayton for reasons 1.4 (b), (d)
1. (SBU) Summary. On August 15, in an unprecedented event,
Prime Minister Erdogan spoke to 150 business, community, and
religious leaders during a lunch on Buyukada Island, also
attended by the Ecumenical Patriarch. Prominent human rights
lawyer Kezban Hatimi, the CHP Mayor of the Princes' Islands
Mustafa Farsakoglu, and Minister for European Affairs Egemen
Bagis organized the event. Consulate General Istanbul's DPO
and Political Officer also attended. The PM's remarks focused
on the importance of a broader understanding of Turkish
citizenship and the "democratic opening" initiative that will
include several short and long-term steps to be revealed in
October. Erdogan broadened the definition of what was
earlier considered a Kurdish package to a democratic package
for all Turkish citizens in a speech that many considered
positive and bold. In addition to the major minority
religious leaders, the Deputy Prime Minister Bulent Arinc,
State Minister Faruk Celik, Minister of Culture Ertugrul
Gunay, Minister of Education Nimet Cabukcu, and Minister
Egemen Bagis were in attendance. End Summary.
Broader Democratization Initiative
----------------------------------
2. (SBU) Erdogan's speech focused on the need for a broad
initiative to enhance democracy for all of Turkey's citizens
of all ethnicities and religions, saying that "this package
will comprise the rights of all 71.5 million Turkish
citizens. Everyone will benefit from this package in line
with the constitutional principle of equality." He
reminisced on playing soccer with his Armenian and Greek
"brothers" when he was younger, stressing the broad ethnic
and religious definition of Turkish citizenship. Erdogan
recalled the "three red lines" for his administration that he
laid out eight years ago: he would discourage any nationalism
based upon region, ethnicity, or religion. He closed his
speech with a brief overview of the infrastructural
investment made in the southeast and the wealth of resources,
like tourism, that Turkey can continue to develop that would
lead to a better life for all Turks. The AKP is currently
surveying political, business, and civil society actors of
all sectors in the formation of its democratization package
it says it will release in October. In daily Today's Zaman's
August 17 write-up on the lunch, it reported that the reform
package would be strategically released prior to the European
Union's progress report in November, with planned
implementation by January 2010.
Expectations and Skepticism
---------------------------
3. (SBU) Invitations for the lunch went out only the day
before leading island residents and many in the audience to
speculate about Erdogan's intentions and potential speech
topic. Island residents, not traditionally supporters of
AKP, were skeptical about Erdogan's intentions and the heavy
security posted at the port and near the Anatolian Club's
entrance. The Ecumenical Patriarch shared with us prior to
the Prime Minister's arrival that he had great hopes for the
lunch and Erdogan's speech, and other contacts noted that
they anticipated remarks about the opening of Halki Seminary.
In addition to the Ecumenical Patriarch, Syriac Orthodox
Metropolitan Yusuf Cetin, Armenian Archbishop Aram Atesyan,
Jewish Community President Sylvio Ovadya, and Syriac Catholic
Monsignor Yusuf Cag were in attendance. Chief Rabbi Isak
Haleva was unable to attend because the lunch was held on
Shabbat.
Prime Minister Meets Patriarch, Visits Greek Orthodox Sites
--------------------------------------------- --------------
4. (SBU) While the Prime Minister did not mention Halki in
his remarks, he did meet with the Ecumenical Patriarch and
representatives of the Greek Orthodox community at St.
George's church and the Buyukada Orphanage for two hours
after lunch. A representative from the Ecumenical
Patriarchate, Father Dositheos, shared that Erdogan and the
Ecumenical Patriarch had a private conversation in which the
Patriarch voiced the Greek Orthodox community's concerns.
Another contact from the Patriarchate told poloff that
Erdogan's visit to the Greek religious and community sites as
a "good positive, almost tangible step that had never
happened before in the Prime Minister's tenure. It really is
quite something."
Reaction to Speech and Event Positive but Hesitant
--------------------------------------------- -----
ISTANBUL 00000323 002.2 OF 002
Classified by: DPO Win Dayton for reasons 1.4 (b), (d)
5. (C) Several of those in attendance at the lunch were
impressed by the Prime Minister's visit and content with the
content of the speech, but felt left empty-handed. Two
journalist contacts said they were happy with "all this talk"
about the democratic opening but were doubtful anything
substantive would come of the movement given the lack of
action. Two other contacts, one active in interfaith
cultural planning and the other the Greek deputy principal
officer, said they were heartened and encouraged by this
"brave new tack in Erdogan's approach to working with all of
Turkey's citizens." Influential columnist Semih Idiz from
daily Milliyet commented, however, that Erdogan still has to
prove that he is not just another populist politician. "While
doing this, he has to consider the political risks awaiting
him and proceed despite those. Erdogan says important things
but we are still not convinced that he could deliver those.
Time will tell." Columnist Yusuf Kanli in Hurriyet Daily
News on August 17 considered the meeting to be a major step
in the right direction and "good news because the 'democracy
problems' of this country are not limited to the complaints
of the ethnic Kurdish people." On August 16, independent
daily Taraf referred to the meeting as "historic" and
reported optimistically on the hopes for positive next steps
following the speech. Conservative daily Zaman also reported
on the meeting, noting only that "many things will change in
our country."
6. (SBU) Comment. The Prime Minister's acceptance of an
invitation to speak at a lunch hosted by a slew of CHPers on
Buyukada attended by leaders of the religious minorities in
Turkey was a surprise to many in attendance. His discussion
of the Kurdish initiative and a basic "redefinition" of the
traditional understanding of Turkish citizenship to embrace
minorities and provide equal democratic rights to all would
have been unlikely only a year ago. Jews and Christians
constitute less than two percent of the Turkish population.
By marketing an inclusive interpretation of the initiative
directly to them, Erdogan may hope to generate favor among
their supporters in Greece, the EU, Israel and the United
States. End comment.
DAYTON
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