Turkey basks in diplomatic clout, despite possible hardships

By Sudarsan Raghavan Knight Ridder Newspapers (KRT) ANKARA, Turkey _ Huseyin Okursoy hasn’t sold a car at his Mitsubishi dealership in more than eight months. Yet he’s proud that Turkey risked losing a $30 billion U.S. aid package three days ago when Parliament refused to allow U.S. troops to enter Turkey on the way to invade Iraq. “It’s what the people wanted,” said Okursoy, 63, a burly, gray-haired man. “This is the first step towards a functioning democracy. I know I may pay a heavy price, but we don’t need to depend on America.” Turkey’s rejection of the United States has sparked a wave of national pride in this secular Muslim nation long ruled by autocratic politicians and military leaders. Torn between the will of the people and intense U.S. pressure, 99 legislators of the ruling Justice and Development Party defected from the party line and voted against the measure to allow U.S. troops. Many Turks say the decision could harm not only Turkey’s economy but also the goal of foiling the creation of an independent Kurdish nation that might seek to include part of Turkey. Yet it still felt good to defy what many Turks believed were heavy-handed U.S. negotiating tactics and insensitivity to Turks. “They don’t want to be seen as the legionnaires of the United States,” said Ali Carkoglu, research director of the Turkish Economic and Social Studies Foundation in Istanbul. At the same time, many of the Justice Party legislators who voted against the measure are inexperienced newcomers who are now having second thoughts that their vote could harm the economy while doing little to stop Turkey’s involvement in a war against Iraq. Already, national pride is giving way to a looming reality that war will severely affect Turkey whether it wants U.S. troops or not, and that could change the outcome in a possible second vote in a week or two. “I can’t help but feel proud about the parliament’s decision,” said Ahmet Sari, 31, a stock market analyst. “The idea of Turkey resisting U.S. pressure makes me feel better about myself. This doesn’t mean that I think the decision was in Turkey’s best interest. “I hope they pass the vote this month, or else our economy will be badly affected in the long run.” U.S. military planners had less trouble convincing Turkey, a NATO ally, to allow the use of its bases against Iraq in the 1991 Persian Gulf War, despite the war’s unpopularity. This time, the democracy and free thought the United States encouraged in Turkey for years has come to haunt Washington. Public opinion polls showed 90 percent of Turks oppose war. The Justice and Development Party was elected only four months ago on a populist platform that blamed Turkey’s elite for economic crisis. Many Turks were also incensed by commentaries and cartoons in the American media that portrayed Turkey as a grubby horse-trader begging for American cash. In one cartoon, republished in newspapers here, President Bush is seen stuffing wads of dollars into the costume of a Turkish belly dancer. Others such as Okursoy bitterly remember that the United States failed to deliver on financial promises to help Turkey during the 1991 Gulf War. “The Turkish republic was ready for this sacrifice,” said Emin Sirin, a legislator who voted against the measure. “A caricature of Turkey belly dancing for money hurt the national pride so much. We are willing to pay the price instead of having this image of Turkey in the public arena.” Sensing this tension, the Bush Administration has been careful not to openly criticize the parliamentary setback, and U.S. diplomats in this capital city have been keeping a low profile. Despite public resentment of the bargaining, senior party officials say they would have more clout to push through approval of U.S. deployment in a second vote if the United States bolstered its offer of economic and political support. “It sure would help,” said Egeman Bagis, a senior legislator and key aide of Turkish leader Tayyip Erdogan. “It would help change the public opinion and the parliamentary opinion.” “This time we are not going to go forward with blind eyes,” said Okursoy, remembering the last war. “We have to make sure the U.S. will support any losses we have.” ___ ‘copy 2003, Knight Ridder/Tribune Information Services.