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Protest In Turkey Not Seen To Hurt Relations ( Embassy Magazine, 19 June 2013) , 22.06.2013

Embassy Magazine, 19 June 2013

Protest in Turkey not seen to hurt relations

The weeks of violent protests in Turkey, which has seen the arrest of Canadian journalists and accusations of excessive use of force by the Turkish police, won’t have much of an impact on relations with Canada, say academics, a former diplomat, and the Turkish ambassador.

That’s because, for Canada and its close ally the United States, Turkey is a strategic partner in terms of both trade and security in the region, say observers.

The protests, which began when environmentalists opposed a plan to rebuild Ottoman-era barracks in Gezi Park in Istanbul, turned into a larger public outcry against what some have called the Turkish government’s increased authoritarianism. There have been violent clashes between protesters and police, with reports coming out of the country about police using tear gas and rubber bullets.

Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan met with representatives of the protesters on June 14 and said he would wait on a court ruling regarding Gezi Park and hold a referendum on his plans if the court gave him the green light. Meanwhile, police tried to clear Gezi Park and the adjacent Taksim Square over the weekend, with public sector unions holding a strike on June 17. The following day, Turkish anti-terror police launched several raids in major cities and detained dozens, according to a Wall Street Journal report.

“Our diplomatic and political position is very quiet, and we are not criticizing because Turkey is for us and for the Americans...an important ally,” said Jabeur Fathally, an assistant professor with the University of Ottawa’s law faculty.

The Harper government, after taking a hard stance against the Syrian regime, also wants to keep an ally in the region, and one ally at the moment is Turkey, Mr. Fathally argued.

Turkey is a key player in the Syrian crisis since humanitarian aid and arms for rebels would go through Turkey, he said. There are also many Syrians currently in Turkey.

“It’s the first player in this crisis and any solution cannot be realized without the Turkish government,” he said, adding that Canada and Turkey also worked together in Afghanistan and Libya.

Mr. Baird criticized what was happening in Turkey after two CBC journalists were arrested on June 12. They were later released.

Mr. Baird said he was very concerned with the situation on the ground in Turkey and the arrests of the two journalists, though he appreciated the quick action by the Turkish ambassador and authorities to help get them released.

“We urge for calm and restraint on all sides,” he said in response to a question during a June 13 teleconference on the Iranian elections.

“While violent protests are unacceptable, peaceful demonstration is a fundamental right and we urge the Turkish authorities to respect that and obviously we share the concern with like-minded allies and are continuing to monitor the situation.”

 

‘Nobody expressed any reservations’

“As far as Canada, Turkish relations are concerned, I see no reason for any kind of adverse development,” said Ozay Mehmet, an international affairs professor and a senior fellow of modern Turkish studies at Carleton University.

“Canada, Turkey relations are more solid,” he said.

“It’s not that feeble that it will be harmed because of what is going on in Turkey or the fact that two reporters were questioned by the police.”

Mr. Mehmet said this is because of military ties and strong commercial and trade relations that are expanding between Canada and Turkey.

Mike Ward, a former Canadian diplomat who served in Turkey as a senior trade commissioner in Ankara and the head of the consulate in Istanbul, said on June 17 that business groups are still optimistic about the prospects in Turkey.

“Nobody expressed any reservations at all; we’re looking at a couple of trade missions going over in the fall,” said Mr. Ward, who is also a director with the Canadian-Turkish Business Council.

There has been a “tremendous increase in interest” by Canadian companies and by the Canadian government in having closer ties with Turkey during the past five years, he said.

“[There is] nothing to indicate that there’s been any dimming of business potential as far as North American firms are concerned in doing business in Turkey.”

Ece Ozlem Atikcan, an assistant professor of political science at Laval University, noted that the Turkish economy has still been doing well during the past few weeks. To add to this, Canada and Turkey are holding exploratory trade talks, Turkish Ambassador Tuncay Babali pointed out.