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Lost at sea

The freedom flotilla debacle sinks Turkish-Israeli relations. A sex scandal propels the “Turkish Ghandi” to power. Turkey and Brazil wrestle Obama on how to handle Iran. Investors look to the Bosporus fondly. And the “Kurdish Initiative” hits theaters.


Top News: In the wake of Israel’s raid on the Turkish-led Gaza freedom flotilla, which left at least nine dead and dozens injured, Turkey-Israel relations have reached a new low. Turkey moved quickly to express their anger at the attack, recalling their ambassador to Israel, and issuing vitriolic statements. During massive street protests, angry demonstrators have burned Israeli flags. The fear that many analysts are beginning to voice is that the incident may have caused irreversible damage to Turkish-Israeli affairs, allowing Turkey to capitalize on Muslim frustration with Israel at the expense of the relationship between the two former allies.

A lurid sex scandal propelled Kemal Kiricdaroglu — a reformer known as the “Turkish Ghandi” — into leadership of the party founded by Mustafa Kemal Ataturk, giving the opposition Republican People’s Party (CHP) their first credible shot at power in recent years. In the wake of a sex scandal in which his long-serving predecessor, Deniz Baykal, was videotaped having an affair with a staffer, Kilacdaroglu was thrust into the leadership of Turkey's venerable secular opposition party. He is one of the most unusual candidates Turkish politics has seen in some time: an ethnic minority bidding to lead a nation whose laws have officially denied that minorities exist, and a man who spent his childhood as a poor villager in a Kurdish-majority region.

Optimists briefly hoped that, against all odds, Turkey and Brazil might just have succeeded in a diplomatic breakthrough with Iran over the nuclear issue. Their proposal would have had Iran sending a portion of its nuclear stockpile to Turkey, pending receipt of more-highly enriched uranium suitable for Tehran's Research Reactor (TRR) within a year. Monday’s report by international nuclear inspectors declaring that Iran has now produced enough nuclear fuel to make two weapons, however, has thrown a bucket of cold water on the Obama administration’s already muted interest in the plan. While the world debates with uncertainty Obama’s sanctions versus the Turkey-Brazil plan, one thing is beyond dispute – this is a landmark move for Turkey in the development of an increasingly independent foreign policy.

One of the Mediterranean’s most volatile feuds seems to at last been reconciled, for now. In a landmark visit across the Aegean Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan met with Greek Prime Minister George Papandreou in what the two nations are billing as a historic breakthrough. No less than 21 bilateral agreements were signed between the former rivals, and the possibility of pruning back their militaries was discussed.  The road to détente was a tough one. A fractious Ottoman legacy, territorial disputes over land and sea, as well as other skirmishes, such as almost going to war over an uninhabited island in 1996, have hindered both sides from fully trusting one another. But as Papandreou said: “Dog-fights should belong to the past.”

Money: Turkey is quickly becoming a favorite of investors looking either to ride the wave of their recent economic growth, or just to get away from Europe’s debt. In an interview with Bloomberg Templeton Asset Management Ltd.’s Mark Mobius argued that emerging markets like Turkey are a “safer” bet for investors worried about European debt. Less risk and better returns? Why not. Plus, if the Turkish parliament passes a proposed legislation that would sets budget targets as a proportion of economic output, Moody’s Investors Service may tip their hat in the direction of the Bosporus, raising Turkey’s credit rating yet again.

A long-awaited gas deal between Turkey and Azerbaijan, postponed earlier this month, is expected to be signed on June 7. Two years of ups and downs on this agreement has kept Europe on edge. If successful, the deal could unlock Azeri gas reserves for the West and eventually trim Europe’s energy dependence on Russia. Turkey and Azerbaijan are close, often being described as "one nation with two states.” But with Turkey seeking to normalize ties with Armenia — Azerbaijan’s enemy in the conflict over Nagorno-Karabakh — tensions between the neighbors have been unusually high.

Elsewhere: When Turkish singer Hadise Acikgoz was asked to sing her country’s national anthem in front of a crowd in a U.S. stadium she had no idea what she was getting herself into. Giving the performance a cappella, rather than the more briskly military tradition, did nothing to endear her to the crowd. A note here and there vaguely reminiscent of blues or soul music didn’t help the situation. The crowds, and the critics, attacked. “Words fail me,” said Garo Mafyan, a well-known musical producer.

“Min Dit”, the first Kurdish-language film to receive a full theatrical release in Turkey, opened this month. While the government's "Kurdish initiative" — a democratization program designed to tackle the decades-old Kurdish problem — seems frozen, small steps forwards like this are beginning to be seen on the cultural front.