Turkish Middle East Policy Faces New Hurdles
By: Translated from Milliyet (Turkey).
Up until few months ago, Turkey’s Middle Eastern policy [appeared] genuinely successful. Ankara was sticking to its [time honored] principle of “zero problems with neighbors,” developing [closer] relations with Middle Eastern countries and taking on an active role in regional issues.
About This Article
Turkey’s Middle East policy has come up against numerous setbacks of late, be it in Iraq, Iran or Syria. Most recently, Turkey has run into problems in Algeria, where Prime Minister Ouyahia rebuffed Turkish attempts to compare the Armenian genocide to French massacres of Algerians. These problems cannot on their own diminish the reality of Turkey’s status as a regional power; but Ankara would still do well to take Arab perspectives into account, argues Sami Kohen.Publisher: Milliyet (Turkey)
New Complications in Middle East Policy
First Published: January 10, 2012
Posted on: January 11 2012
Translated by: Timur Goksel
Categories : Turkey
[Everyone in the region] had accepted the fact that Turkey had become a more influential, vocal and popular force in the region.
However, several new complications have emerged, and these are casting a shadow over [Turkey’s] earlier achievements. Regional perceptions of Turkey are not as [positive and consistent] as they used to be. Not everything is going as planned, or as [Turkish officials] had hoped. There are many examples of [the new challenges Turkey now faces in the Middle East].
The latest example is Algeria. During last month’s crisis with France over the legislation it passed [criminalizing denial of the] Armenian genocide, [Turkish] Prime Minister [Recep Tayyip] Erdogan called on the French to first acknowledge their [own] massacres of Algerians [which took place] in 1945. By doing so, Erdogan sought to pressure France and provoke a reaction from Algeria; but the Algerian reaction was not what had been expected. Not only did [Algerian] Prime Minister Ahmed Ouyahia take issue with Turkey’s attempt to compare events in Algeria with what happened in Armenia, but he also asserted that the Ottomans surrendered Algeria to France in the 19th century in [a battle that lasted] only three days. [Furthermore], he accused Turkey of not supporting the Algerian struggle for liberation in 1960s.
This has now become a point of debate in Algeria. The opposition is criticizing the P
prime minister’s harsh language towards Turkey. [However], it appears that official Algerian policy is now to confront Turkey. [French President Nicolas] Sarkozy must be delighted.
One of the [most difficult] complications of [Turkish] Middle Eastern policy of late is the question of Syria. Not only has [Turkey] adopted a rigidly anti-Assad stance, but we have actively supported the opposition, calling attention to the fact that we want Assad to leave. As Assad continued to defy the pressures [faced by his regime], our rift with Syria has widened. It is difficult to predict how the civil war in Syria will end, but for the moment all ties have been severed between the two countries.
Another serious issue is that of Iraq. Ankara unquestionably wants to see an end to the escalating Sunni-Shia tensions there. [The Turkish reaction to] Iraqi Prime Minister Maliki’s dispute with Vice President Hashemi has provoke a hostile attitude from Baghdad. [These tensions] culminated with [Iraq accusing] Turkey of interfering in its internal affairs. This perception is widespread among the Shiites.
Problems with Iran are nothing new. Although an agreement was reached to resume negotiations [over Iran’s nuclear program] in Istanbul, differences remain on several regional issues - namely the NATO radar [shields to be installed in Turkey]. It is clear that there are complications in [Ankara’s] relationship with Iran.
The Arab Spring has brought about problems, but also opportunities. The Turkish model is [at the heart of an emerging] dichotomy [in the Middle East], especially between the politicians and the intelligentsia of these countries. For example, Erdogan’s statements on secularism [during a visit to] Cairo generated reactions from Egyptian religious circles. There is no doubt that all of these [challenges] cannot diminish Turkey’s importance, or its influence as a regional power. Nevertheless, it is time to take a look at the other side of the coin.
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