Wednesday, May 19, 2010


Well, word has come to Berdimuhamedov and his inner circle that Turkmenistan needs multiple-party politics in order to be Taken Seriously by The West or something like that. Eternal Remont, among others, is not impressed with Berdimuhamedov's decision.
In a nut shell, it seems the two-party system will be the existing party, just in two branches. The branches won't be in opposition to each other at all. Just complimentary really.
So even if the new party is more than just window dressing, it is being created solely as a Agricultural Party, it is much more of an Agricultural Department of the current Democratic Party than it is a sort of current iteration of the BANU or other such Balkan parties built on agrarian principles. Daikhan will exist “to explain and implement the state agricultural policy,” which doesn't sound like a loyal opposition in any sense of the term.

Chronicles of Turkmenitan's Farid Tubahtullin goes on to note that Berdimuhamedov's good friend Dadaev will likely have a large role in Daikhan. Tubahtullin also goes on to compare Turkmenistan to Uzbekistan uncharitably. I'm a bit more optimistic than Tubahtullin, but then again, I'm receiving information second- or third-hand from him. At least the creation of Daikhan shows a change of focus from an energy-based economy and at least purports to defer to the will of pastoralists and farmers. Of course, putting a chicken-farmer like Dadaev in charge means that it'll just be a way for agribusiness and cotton produces to stand on somewhat more equal footing with the gas sector, and welcome in Monsantos along with Gazproms. Either way, its diversification for a leader who's been adept in playing one foreign interest off another.

And all the while, the creation of a "Farmer's Party" in 2010 does smack of being out-of-touch on the world stage. If Berdimuhamedov is creating this party to appeal to the west, it still seems to appeal to the Borat-as-Central-Asia motif that gets pasted on the region. I almost feel like they should just create a "America-hatin' Islamicists Party" and "Crippling Misogyny Party" just to complete the image. I bet someone is already working on Eastward to Tatary II mentioning how the moving of the Arch of Neutrality (note the referring to Niyazov as a "cult leader" and the quoting of Ozymandias, respectively...and last I heard the Arch is still in the city center. This still true?) and the creation of Daikhan represents a Bold New Shift in Central Asian statecraft.

It isn't.

Monday, May 17, 2010

Everything is Never Quite Enough

First off, apologies for the, um, sensual content in the following video. I didn't direct Thomas Crowne Affair, a'ight?

For all the foot-stomping and teeth-gnashing about Iran getting nuclear tech...Iran, it looks like, got nuclear tech. Or, in reality, they give up tons of 3.5% uranium to Turkey, and in return get fuel rods at 20% uranium from Russia. Apparently Brazil is helping too, in some oblique way.

And since this involves Turkey, I get to be all pundit-y. Watch out, Mr. Schleifer!

In seriousness, this is just a big part of Davutoglu's "Zero Problems with Neighbors" policy that's made Turkey come 180 degrees from Inonu isolationism into neo-Ottomanism. Turkey wants to have open trade, rational immigration, and general friendly terms with all of its neighbors. This is easy enough for Bulgaria or Macedonia, but a bit trickier for Iran. Because of the whole NATO thing and the whole Israel gets really grumpy thing.

All the same, the deal looks to be a diplomatic masterstroke of the sort Davutoglu is getting himself a name pulling through. Iran gets to do nuclear! says its for cancer research, which is awfully commendable. Russia gets to sell something that isn't oil or gas or Andrei Arshavin...also a good thing. And Turkey? Turkey gets to look like a real country and take some real leadership. This is the sort of thing that the US used to do, and you can bet lots of Turks will be chest-thumping about how this shows that they've truly made it. And they may have a good point. If there's one security force I'd trust to keep the nuclear waste safe...its probably the Turks. Here's just hoping they don't store it in some place like Yuksekova or another place where they'll get pinned for leaking nuclear waste/other human rights abuses.

So if you ask me, its a brilliant diplomatic coup for Turkey and it helps out Iran and Russia. Al Jazeera is nice enough to note that the US and UK are still grumpy because this doesn't follow the IAEA demands to the letter. Which they don't...apparently if Iran defaults on buying the rods or the deal otherwise falls through, the fuel secured in Turkey...stays secured in Turkey, instead of being destroyed.

But demands are exactly that, demands. Diplomacy is about finding a middle road that works, right? So if the only worries are the trustworthiness of Turkey then I feel pretty alright with this. It should be stated that Turkey stands to lose a LOT of money if they are forced into sanctions against Iran...they have a lot to lose if they screw up. The US and UK have to play their part and give stern warnings...but they'll appreciate it in the end. They are probably just concerned with Turkey acting like a hegemon in West Asia, but I'm sure the good folks have contingency plans there.

Ha'aretz has a pretty good read over its way, as well. Bar'el has one pull quote I like:

Nevertheless, Turkey is the deal's big winner. Trade between Iran and Turkey already stands at $10 billion annually, so if sanctions were imposed on Tehran, Turkey would suffer a massive blow to its economy - and Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan's party would suffer a major political setback. Alternatively, should Turkey decide not to uphold the sanctions, it might find itself in a crisis with the United States and Europe. Hence the tremendous effort Turkey made to achieve the deal, despite American warnings that Iran might be using Turkey in order to buy time.
Yup, Turkey wins out huge, Iran just gets to join the table again. Bar'el also has this to say, though:
The closer ties between Turkey and Syria, Iran's ally; the similar attitude that Turkey and Iran have toward Hamas; their shared interests in Iraq; and a similar view of radical Islamic terrorism all combined with Turkey's disappointment over European views of its candidacy to join the European Union to create a confluence of interests that, for the time being, trumps their disagreements. Moreover, from an ideological standpoint, Iran prefers Turkey to the U.S.: Any concession to Washington or its Security Council partners would be perceived as a surrender.
Turkey and Iran have similar attitudes towards Hamas, sure. But Iran actively supports Hamas with funding. Turkey's support is mostly just Erdogan making loud political statements to rile up his domestic base in election time. Turkey and Iran have awfully diametrically opposed interests in Iraq, except that both want peace and a real country. Turkey's disappointment with Europe has been a big reason for the "Zero Problems" policy, but that's about it. And Iran liking Turkey more then the US? Well...yeah.

Look, if you don't trust Iran and you think they're getting nukes to rain down on Israel...this probably won't change your mind. But if you're not really sure what their plan is and don't want to ostracize a country for the sake of ostracizing them and scoring political points domestically...this is a really good thing. Its good for stability, its good for building reliable partnerships, and its good to have open trade of nuclear stuff instead of A.Q. Khan-style trading. This is a logical, sane, nice deal for everyone. So unless you can prove to me that Iran wants to build a nuclear warhead in a way that'll defeat Occam's Razor...chill, yo.

Book Review: Enlightenment by Maureen Freely

These book reviews are entirely navel-gazing and bland, but yeah, its something I want to get done.

And Enlightenment is an awfully navel-gazing book. Taken from the memories of Ms. Freely's youth in Istanbul, its about a bunch of college kids trying to foment revolution against the heavy-handed (and nefariously Deep) State in '60s Turkey. Its a solid backdrop for a story...true love, lust, the delta between the two, all taking place with Daddy Issues and evading state security. Because when you're 13-20, everything that happens to you is The Most Important Thing Ever. So why not write a book where it actually, in some small way, is like where you staying with your boyfriend has international implications?

I'm obviously a target audience, what with going to Istanbul at a young point in my life. So even though I read reviews where folks complained about not "getting" the locale, I actually do, sorta. And fighting imperialism, rebelling against parents, all that sort of thing is all my sort of thing to. So yeah, if you studied abroad and have an overinflated sense of yourself, you're the target audience too.

Freely is famous for being Orhan Pamuk's translator first and foremost, and this is, I believe her first novel. And it is a bit uneven, and some characters are a bit wooden, and things are generally not absolutely fantastic, or even on Pamuk's level. But it's a fun, taut, pageturner. Its a good mystery/romance novel for twenty-somethings. So its a fun book. I won't necessarily recommend it to all of my friends, but I'd give it to a girl who just came back from studying in Istanbul or something. Its full of coasties, privileged diplomats' kids, and hard-boiled journalists, and everyone in the book is super-fantastic. So its a fun read...just more like Grisham than Pamuk. Not that there's anything wrong with that.

And in case Ms. Freely ever crosses paths with me, I do want to reiterate how much I liked this book.