Professor Galtung: Erdoğan Should Focus on Foreign Policy

INTERVIEW, 18 Aug 2014

Yonca Poyraz Doğan – Today’s Zaman, Istanbul

Johan Galtung (Photo: Today's Zaman, Turgut Engin))

Johan Galtung (Photo: Today’s Zaman, Turgut Engin))

August 17, 2014

This week’s guest for Monday Talk says President-elect Tayyip Erdoğan should focus on the many foreign policy challenges he faces rather than on transforming Turkey’s parliamentary system into a presidential system.

“I hope the 52 percent precedent will turn the focus from how to make a presidential democracy to a little bit more on the problems related to Syria, the Kurds and the Armenians — the big problems,” said Johan Galtung, an internationally renowned professor of peace studies.

If he were to advise the Turkish government, Galtung said he would tell Erdoğan to hold a UN-led conference in Antalya in order to discuss the formation of an Organization for Security and Cooperation in West Asia like the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE).

“It was done very skillfully by the Finns. Turkey is the Finland of West Asia. Turkey has that kind of platform and has experience with all the powers,” he said.

Galtung spoke with us to elaborate on the issue during his recent visit to İstanbul for the International Peace Research Association’s (IPRA) biannual conference.


Although you are known for your peaceful solutions, solving conflicts must be a hard task nowadays. Also, you are in Turkey, which is right on the border of the world’s hottest conflicts, including the Gaza situation and Syria. What shall we do?

If you want to solve a conflict, you should talk with all parties, absolutely all parties. My first question is: What does the Gaza that you would like to see look like? I’d ask that to various Palestinians and Israelis. Some Israelis would say “empty.” Others would say “with no tunnels and rockets.” Some others would say “a blossoming society with peaceful cooperation with us.” In other words, you get a variety. That’s normal. That means you have not only two parties to the conflict, you have parties inside Gaza and inside Israel. So, this is the first thing to do, mapping the conflict. Secondly, you expose illegitimate [aspects of the conflict]. Is Israel in a position to say “We want an empty Gaza”? It’s totally illegitimate, it’s against international law. It’s against human rights.

Are you saying this is what Israel says?

No, some Israelis inside Israel say this. Many Israelis have escaped from Israel. They have given it up. Much of the peace movement is in California, but there is a big peace movement left in Israel. It’s called women — that’s where the hope is.

 What do they say?

Some of them are to the extreme right, but they say, roughly speaking: We want an Israel at peace with its neighbor. We want an Israel with Jewish characteristics but not a Jewish state only for Jews. We want peaceful relations, be it with Gaza, the West Bank or East Jerusalem. If they want a Palestine where people will live peacefully on equal terms, we want some right to return, they want some right to return. We can negotiate the number. In other words, you have different views here, but what you first need to do is to distinguish between legitimate and illegitimate. We use three criteria to make an evaluation: law, human rights and basic needs. These are what come to my mind when you talk about negotiating and mediating. Then comes the difficult part: making the jump to a new reality where all of them can feel at home. It will not meet their goals perfectly but almost. There is nothing mysterious about it, but it requires much experience.

Israel is losing legitimacy

You said women in Israel can play an important role. Why?

I am pointing to women because they have a complaint: Orthodox Judaism. It’s very hostile to women. At the same time, a Jew is a person born to a Jewish woman, which means that Jewish women are caught in between — on the one hand bringing Jews into the world and, on the other hand, being second-class citizens. They don’t accept this anymore.

 Do you see initiatives taken by Israeli women to address these problems?

An enormous amount — highly educated women living in Israel, standing up and writing articles for newspapers. Many people in Israel know perfectly well that the present regime will not win in Gaza. For each member of Hamas they kill, they create 10 more. There are now big movements in the Arab world: the “Islamic State” [IS] the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions [BDS] campaign. Israel is losing legitimacy, Palestine is gaining it. People try to close their eyes and not see it but they know perfectly well that this is not going to work. But what do we need to do? The key word could be regime change.

Regime change in Israel?


That does not seem to be happening.

We have to wait and see for a year or so.

 How? What would have changed?

Let’s assume that a number of countries withdrew their ambassadors from Tel Aviv and said that they recognize Palestine. They downgrade Israel, upgrade Palestine. The breakthrough has already happened. In the UN General Assembly resolution, only nine countries voted with the United States, 138 on the other side, with 41 abstaining [On Nov. 29, 2012, the United Nations General Assembly resolution upgraded Palestine to non-member observer state status in the United Nations]. It was a tremendous defeat for Israel. Down the road will come what Israel fears most: The United States will say to Israel that they’ve become a liability — like the US said to the Philippines and South Africa. There are strong forces in the US moving in that direction. What I’ve learned in my 83 years of life is that nothing is forever. Hitler did not know where to stop. Netanyahu does not know where to stop; he just goes on and on. In the secret service and the Israeli army, there are voices highly critical of Netanyahu.

You expect a regime change but not in the near future?

Not next week, but I would be surprised if we don’t see major changes within two years. And I would be very surprised if the present Israeli regime survives five years. Nobody can force Israel to [make such a change], it has to come from the inside. The United States is part of the inside. They came into existence the same way: taking somebody else’s land. The English did the same — 1607 in Virginia, 1620 in Massachusetts.

‘Islam has suffered humiliation’

You mentioned that there are voices in the Israeli army critical of the current Israeli regime…

If the present regime goes down, they will go down together. If you knew what they say about Netanyahu, they say things that are much worse, I am restraining my words when I say they are headed straight for the abyss.

When you say regime change, two things come to mind: It can be good and it can be bad. Is there a guarantee that it will be good?

You are absolutely right, there is no guarantee. If the present regime continues, I can imagine much worse things, like the use of atomic weapons. If Israel is threatened, it can do that, but I don’t see a military force in the surrounding countries that poses that threat.

We’ve been talking about Israel, but what about the other side? What can Hamas, what can Mahmoud Abbas do? Is there anything the Palestinians can do?

I can understand the psychology behind the use of the rockets, but I question the wisdom of using rockets against the strongest military regime in the region. They can use non-violence in the West Bank, in East Jerusalem, inside Israel. Abbas stands for Fatah. Hamas is Islamic — think about the humiliation Islam has suffered.

The Ottoman Empire had the admirable millet system. It is the only solution for today. The humiliation after the Sykes-Picot [Agreement] is the basic thing. Then, even though Turkey had been in Syria for a hundred years, Sykes-Picot handed it over to the French, it handed Lebanon to the French and it handed Palestine and Iraq to the English. That is humiliation. That’s why we have the “Islamic State.” The “Islamic State” is the people behind Saddam Hussein, taking revenge. It would be very useful if Hamas and the IS could come up with a vision for the Middle East that would be acceptable for most people.

 ‘Sykes-Picot borders to change’

 Do you see this kind of vision coming from anywhere, especially from the IS, which seems to be busy doing horrible things?

This is what we are told today. The vision could be the Ottoman Empire without İstanbul, and the caliphate without İstanbul. Turkey will be in it but with no special role. Will Hamas do that? When it is more mature, yes. Right now, they are driven by hatred. They have reasons for their hatred if you look at the century of Sykes-Picot. The Sykes-Picot Agreement was against the Ottoman Empire and promised Arabs independence. Sykes-Picot also destroyed the Ottoman Empire and you had [Mustafa] Kemal Atatürk. I admired the first phase of Kemalism, but not the second phase. I admired Mustafa Kemal defeating then-First Lord of the Admiralty Winston Churchill at Gallipoli. I think he made one basic mistake: forcing secularism mainly on the military and creating a division between the military and 98 percent of the population, making military dictatorship almost inevitable. The person [President-elect Recep Tayyip Erdoğan] who took 52 percent of the vote on Sunday [Aug. 10], I admired his strong position against Israel when it came to the [Mavi] Marmara ship; but I am not so sure when it comes to the Turkish CIA and its cooperation with the Israeli intelligence service and the United States’ CIA. And I see the biggest mistake Turkey made, on Syria, as being a result of being badly informed. There are problems: Israel and the United States want to cut Syria into small pieces. And of course, obviously, Islamists are regenerating what existed before Sykes-Picot, without Turkey. I hope the 52 percent precedent will turn the focus from how to make a presidential democracy to a little bit more on the problems related to Syria, the Kurds and the Armenians — the big problems.

Do you talk with people from the “Islamic State”?

I do sometimes. There is a broad spectrum of people in the IS. The West picks the worst of them.

Turkey shared the same vision as the US on [Syrian President Bashar al-] Assad and the opposition, and there are allegations that the Turkish government is supporting the IS in Syria. How do you explain this?

Let us see the proof; it is not so obvious. But there is one thing that is obvious. If you are a fighter for the IS and if you are in Iraq, the US will shoot at you; if you cross the border into Syria, the US will give you weapons to fight Assad. Maybe Turkey does the same.

Do you expect the borders drawn by the Sykes-Picot Agreement to change?

It would not be a bad idea for London and Paris to apologize. And the tsar was in on it, too. The point is to suspend those four colonies and you let them be part of the “Islamic State” with space for Israel with 1967 borders. I have been mediating since 1964; I could say I am sick and tired of it, but I am not. It is challenging. The thing I came up with is called “1, 2, 6, 20.” The one stands for Palestine being fully recognized according to international law, as a UN member state and bilaterally by an ever-increasing number. And the two stands for a two-state solution with the 1967 borders and some swaps: two Israeli cantons in sacred areas on the West Bank and two Palestinian cantons in Northwest Israel that were heavily Palestinian before the Nakba, two capitals in Jerusalem. And six is my favorite: a six–state community, modeled on the European Community in 1958, with Israel and five border countries — Lebanon, Syria, Jordan, Palestine and Egypt with the borders as open as possible, and with a water and energy plan. Then comes 20-state cooperation, modeled on the Organization for Security and Cooperation for Europe (OSCE) of 1975. That’s my dream.

Are there any politicians who support this idea?

Maybe not today, but probably tomorrow.

 ‘Kurds can have domestic autonomy in each country’

You’d like to see the Turkish government focus on foreign policy issues more. Would you elaborate more on this topic?

Let’s start with the Kurds. About 24 years ago, I was asked by the Kurds for my take on a solution. I said it should have three stages: First, human rights in the four countries. You should stand up and say, I am a Kurd. It was at the time they were called “mountain Turks.” Stage two, I said, is to be a little bit modest with the demands for a high level of autonomy. In the four regions [Turkey, Iran, Iraq and Syria], they can have domestic autonomy, and the administrative language could be more Kurdish than Turkish, although Turkish will be there, side by side. The flags will be more Kurdish than Turkish; the atmosphere will be more Kurdish. Stage three is that you don’t move a single border, because if you start moving borders, the military will notice in all countries.

You have autonomy in Iraq, although not perfect; human rights in Turkey — a vision with regard to this made Erdoğan say, “Let’s sit down and discuss this;” and in Syria it’s moving in the direction of autonomy, too. Since I said this in 1991, much has happened. The kind of democracy they have in Iraq placed the power in the hands of Shiites. Plus, you have the IS. The IS and the Kurds have to come to a solution. Iraq has to be federalized much more than it has been. When it comes to Syria, it should have been federalized, and if they can learn from the Ottoman Empire, they could have the millet system for the numerous religious and ethnic minorities that they have. The Kurds in the northeastern corner could get something, but the problem is Iran. I don’t have any proof, but my hunch is that the killing in Halabja [Iraq] was done by the Iranians. The Pentagon men said that former Iraqi President Saddam Hussein did not have the gas used in Halabja. Somehow, Erdoğan could be the man to simply sit down and talk about the Sunni and Shiite issue. One of my courses this fall at the International Islamic University of Malaysia will be on the differences and similarities between Protestantism and Catholicism, and Sunni and Shiite Islam.

You know Erdoğan has been accused of favoring Sunnis in these conflicts.

That does not mean he is a Sunni extremist and cannot sit down to talk about solving the issue.

If you were to advise to the Turkish government and Erdoğan regarding foreign policy, what would you say?

Hold a conference in Antalya; invite the UN to preside over the conference and aim for an Organization for Security and Cooperation in West Asia, like the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE). It was done very skillfully by the Finns. Turkey is the Finland of West Asia. Turkey has that kind of platform and has experience with all the powers, just like Finland had been occupied by the Swedes, after that by the Russians, and had a war with the Russians, and made peace with the Russians and the Germans, too. Israel and Palestine, Kurds, Turkey and Armenia, and the Sunni-Shiite issue will be on the conference agenda. What happened with the Armenians was terrible, and Turkey is to be blamed for part of it, but it was part of a war. The basic task now is to construct better relations. Turkey is rich, Armenia is not; Armenia is leaning on Russia. Turkey can make Mt. Ararat a peace mountain, joint property. I know there is a border in between. Let the border stay where it is but make a part of Mt. Ararat a peace mountain. And let Yerevan make a funicular to Mt. Ararat. So you can make a jump to a new reality. This new reality could be appetizing.

‘Kurdistan can have its own parliament but it will be part of Turkey’ 

You know many Turks fear that Kurds will separate and that Turkey will be divided.

I have a vision to avoid this: Kurdistan will have its own parliament but it will be part of Turkey, Syria, Iran and Iraq. They will have double nationalities. The worse you treat the Kurds, the more they will tell Ankara to go to hell. I’d also get the person on the island in the Sea of Marmara [Kurdistan Workers’ Party leader Abdullah Öcalan] to the table in Ankara. He has changed. I believe in his change.

Have you talked with him?

I talked to people very close to him. Everything I said here about the Kurdish issue, I presented at a talk in London to a meeting of Kurdish academics. If you could have heard the applause I got, because almost for the first time they had a vision. It is not that I have knowledge that they don’t have; it’s about having a light at the end of the tunnel. Turkey resolved problems with Bulgaria relatively well. In fact, if you look at the Balkan Wars, Turkey withdrew with a certain grace. What is left in Bosnia-Herzegovina and what is left in Kosovo can be handled – they are not unproblematic, but can be handled. Turkey has done quite well, so I am optimistic.


Johan Galtung – A professor of peace studies, he is a mathematician, sociologist, political scientist and the founder of the discipline of peace studies. He founded the International Peace Research Institute in Oslo in 1959, the world’s first academic research center focused on peace studies, as well as the influential Journal of Peace Research in 1964. He has helped found dozens of other peace centers around the world.

He was jailed in Norway for six months at age 24 as a conscientious objector to serving in the military, after having done 12 months of civilian service, the same amount of time as those doing military service. He agreed to serve an extra six months if he could work for peace, but that was refused. In jail he wrote his first book “Gandhi’s Political Ethics” with his mentor, Arne Naess.

He is founder and rector of the TRANSCEND Peace University, the world’s first online Peace Studies University. He is also the founder and director of TRANSCEND International, a global non‑profit network for peace, development and the environment, founded in 1993, with over 500 members in more than 70 countries around the world.

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3 Responses to “Professor Galtung: Erdoğan Should Focus on Foreign Policy”

  1. Adnan Aydin says:

    These are interesting ideas. However, the author is misinformed about ISIS in Syria. It was created by the Assad regime to fight the free Syrian army. The Assad regime did not attack them and they were free to move their forces in daylight. They killed and massacred innocent citizens and Sunni tribes in the north east region of Syria. Assad wanted to show Syrians the more horrible alternative to his regime and prove to the west that he is fighting terrorists. Turkey did not supply them with any arms. They were supplied by the Assad and the Maliki regimes.
    Why did the US and the west ignored their atrocities in Syria? Secretary of State John Kerry accused the Assad regime of his support to ISIS and of giving them territorial operations and protection during the second Geneva conference.

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