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Turkey's Sunni Identity Test

The Turkish government’s sectarian impulse, resurging whenever foreign policy fails, reverberates in domestic politics and fans social unrest.
Protesters clash with riot police during a protest against Turkey's Prime Minister Tayyip Erdogan and the Turkish government's foreign policy on Syria, in Istanbul May 16, 2013. REUTERS/Osman Orsal (TURKEY - Tags: POLITICS CIVIL UNREST) - RTXZP3Y
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In one of its worst repercussions on Turkey, the Syrian crisis swept away the dust that covered the sectarian cracks in the depths of Turkish society and politics. Up until Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan marked his Syria policy with an emphasis on Damascus being a “Nusayri minority regime,” the question of whether the Justice and Development Party (AKP) government was shaping a pro-Sunni foreign policy had been raised only timidly. The general outlook of Turkish foreign policy suggested equal dialogue with all parties without sectarian discrimination.

Things, however, changed as Ankara leapt from the spot of an impartial mediator/facilitator to the position of a “playmaker.” In post-occupation Iraq, for instance, Turkey sought to influence the process via Sunni channels, which were the easiest to penetrate. This was understandable to a certain extent as things had not yet settled down. But sectarian sensitivities swelled in the government-formation process following the 2010 polls as Turkey threw its weight behind the Sunni bloc. When the US pulled out from Iraq on Dec. 31, 2011, the swelling capsule burst.

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