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`Never predict, especially for the future´

YÜKSEL SÖYLEMEZ

My predictions for 2006, with an error margin of 50 percent, are as follows:

— In Turkish domestic politics: This year may be an early election year, probably in November 2006, and has to be decided for or against before July by the ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP). In that sense, actions of Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoðan’s government will be colored and influenced by this possibility.

— 2005 gave us evidence of restrictions against freedom of speech with infamous court cases. They will be closely watched with concern, from near and far, as they continue on in 2006.

— Public support in Turkey for the European Union before Oct. 3, 2005 was a huge 78 percent but slid downhill to 25 percent by the end of the year, indicating a substantial loss of heart. This was similarly observed, as reflected in the AKP’s lukewarm and distanced approach towards the EU, after the decision of the European Court of Human Rights to uphold Turkey’s headscarf ban, which is against AKP ideology.

— 2006 may give us a showdown leading to a suspension of EU negotiations before they actually start. This may be due to a Greek Cypriot veto related to the provisions of the customs union additional protocol that Turkey signed but has not yet ratified.

— Iraq will still be the priority issue with the thorny PKK problem. With the December elections in Iraq over and a Shiite majority in the background, a coalition with expected Sunni participation will be a difficult task, if not impossible. They will solve little of substance in Iraq, as civil war looms on the horizon in view of the chaotic situation of insurgency. The future of the constitution will still be a bone of contention.

— On Cyprus, a mutually agreed upon solution still seems far away. Bilateral negotiations may start by the spring of 2006 as no more than window dressing. There is nothing for Mr. Papadopoulos to negotiate except on his own terms. He has the veto card in his hand against Turkey’s EU membership. The winner takes all. EU pressure that is expected to mount on him is the only hope for a peaceful solution.

— Turkey-U.S. relations enter a constructive new era of further intelligence cooperation. The prevention of continued terrorist attacks of the PKK from northern Iraq will be the cornerstone of Turkey-U.S. relations.

— Iran does not bow to international pressure to forgo the pursuit of nuclear weaponry. The possibility of a surgical strike by the United States or by Israel on Iranian nuclear facilities cannot be ruled out in 2006. It is unlikely that Iranian President Ahmadinejad’s regime will initiate an opening to the West. There is little room for Turkey-Iran relations to improve in this negative climate except in investment, trade and natural gas.

— Palestinian Front leader Mahmoud Abbas was chosen as the next leader of the Palestinian Authority, rather than the popular Barquti, who is currently serving time in an Israeli prison, or Mahmoud Zahor of Hamas, as we all predicted. Abbas is giving a chance for peace in the Middle East. The exit from Gaza was a major event by Israeli Prime Minister Sharon as an indication that positive new developments may be in sight in 2006 if Sharon and his new party stay in power.

— I was wrong to predict last year that the EU constitution would be adopted in referenda, as it was rejected. I feel it will be drastically amended in 2006, but in the face of much opposition.

— Al-Qaeda most probably will seek space on the front pages of the Western media with its terrorist activities around the world by targeting soft spots; however, the leadership of Osama bin Laden may be waning. He has absolutely no popularity in Turkey. His inhumane tactics, if not his strategy to win Islamic followers, seem to be less popular among its sympathizers the world over.

— In Afghanistan, President Karzai and fellow government members have survived assassination attempts. The former Taliban followers not only coexist in ethnically divided Afghanistan but are now fully represented in the new Afghan parliament. The Turkish Armed Forces, with their positive reputation in the peace-building field and time-tested experience, may again reassume a shared command of the International Security Force (ISAF) in Afghanistan in August 2006.

— The Balkans will again be back in the center of attention while Kosovo’s future status is determined. Some 30-40,000 Turks in Kosovo will demand their political rights within an independent Kosovo.

— The Greater Middle East and North Africa Project may see a gradual, if not a modest, take-off. Turkey may quietly try to sell itself as a model of a modern and democratic Muslim country. The U.N. project for meeting of cultures headed by the Turkish and Spanish prime ministers will need support and help to move on.

— Turkey’s strained relations with Israel were normalized in 2005 as mutual interests dictated. The Blue Stream natural gas project now intended to reach Israel will be decided on in principle; the blueprints are waiting for implementation. Israel-Iran machinations will be a source of concern for Turkey.

— Turkey’s intent on normalizing relations with its neighbor Armenia will continue to be hostage to the Nagorno–Karabakh tragedy and purported claims of “genocide.” The opening of the common border may still be wishful thinking. Popular charter flights from Istanbul to Yerevan will continue.

— A welcome rapprochement of Turkey and Greece entered an unproductive period of standstill in 2005. The green light for 2006 may be given with the expected visit of Greek Prime Minister Karamanlis to Ankara. The opening of Heybeli Orthodox seminary may be waiting in the wings for a diplomatic give and take.

— Turkey-Germany relations, with Angela Merkel as the new hard-line chancellor, enters into a period of uncertainty in 2006, as Merkel was in favor of a “special status” short of full EU membership for Turkey that was also supported by Austria.

— Turkey-France relations, in spite of Chirac’s far-sighted statesmanlike support, were overshadowed by the negative Sarkozy effect and the Armenian diaspora influence in France. There is no new initiative in sight for breaking the ice.

— Turkey-Russia relations entered a new, positive and historic chapter with bilateral trade reaching $10 billion in 2005, expected to climb to $20 billion with Russian investment in the energy sector and the possible building of a nuclear power plant following President Putin’s visits to Prime Minister Erdoðan.

— All in all, 2006 looks to be a year of a steep uphill climb, with heavy diplomatic baggage to carry and a vitally important agenda to follow. It will be a year of serious challenges to be reckoned with, with an early election possibility looming on the horizon.

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