"Still Time" for Turkey to Revise its Foreign Policy

Article Summary
By abandoning their former neutrality in regional affairs, Turkey has in the space of one year undone the foreign policy gains it had achieved over the course of a decade. However, it is still not too late for the AKP to reverse course in the Middle East, writes Mohammad Noureddine.

Turkey is facing immense challenges in its foreign policy formulation, which is now fluctuating between a “zero problems” and “zero policy” approach.

Eight years ago, nobody would have expected Turkey’s hostile geographical surroundings to turn friendly. [Nobody would have expected] a resolution to all of the problems that characterized Turkey’s relations with its direct neighbors.

But later developments led to further changes in Turkey’s foreign policy [which would ruin its newly rebuilt relations with its neighbors to the East and the South]. Western pressure on Ankara following the Freedom Flotilla incident [in which Israeli commandos boarded a flotilla bound for Gaza, killing Turkish citizens] signalled a turning point of increased Turkish bias towards the West. Furthermore, certain Arab revolutions muddled Turkey’s policies towards certain Arab countries and ruined its relations with others.

But certain Turkish writers have painted a broader image of the renewed animosity towards Turkey. Most notable are the Israeli attempts to further isolate Turkey. Similar attempts have been made by Greece, Greek Cyprus, Romania and Bulgaria and economic, military and intelligence agreements have signed between these countries [at Turkey’s expense]. If Russia, Armenia, Iran, Iraq, Syria and even Lebanon are added to this group, the geographic noose around Turkey’s neck would be fully tightened.

Supplementing this group are countries and powers more geographically removed [from the Anatolian peninsula]. The circle of countries who find issue with Turkish foreign policy continues to grow.

At the forefront of these countries is France, whose relations with Turkey have been growing more tense. [First], there is the issue of Turkish application to the European Union - one of the major points of contention between Turkey and France. [Next] are Turkey’s [cool] relations with Germany. [Now], France’s stance on the Turkish genocide of Armenians in 1915, and its recent law criminalizing the denial of this genocide is further tightening the noose around Turkey’s [neck]. One could compare Turkey’s present situation with its predicament during the 1990’s, when it was surrounded by enemies near and far.

We cannot, as matters stand, solely blame these countries for Turkey’s current unhealthy position [in the international arena], while absolving the government of the Justice and Development Party [AKP] from blame. [The AKP government’s actions cannot be ignored] given that Turkey actively seeks to become an regional power, and ultimately desires global influence.

Those who orchestrated the “zero problems [with neighbors]” policy - namely Turkey’s Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu - are also responsible for evaluating that policy’s true results.

Turkish officials need to be flexible in accepting current realities, and they must not reject [in advance] criticism of Turkish policies which have negatively impacted other countries as much as Turkey itself. [Turkey’s recent foreign policies] have not been conducive to the spread of tranquility; they have rather exacerbated tensions at a time when Turkey should have been capable of playing a role unlike any other.

The similarities between the leanings of the AKP [government] and those of past secular, military, hard-line regimes is a matter worthy of analysis. For military governments have in the past treated Islamists in Turkey in a manner similar to the current “Islamist regime’s” treatment of their foes. Everybody expected much different behavior [from the AKP].

In terms of [diplomacy], Turkish officials committed a grave error by abandoning their policy of maintaining equal distance from everybody, instead becoming party to the internal and external conflicts of other countries. The Turks are part of an Arab, Islamic and Christian region characterized by unique sensitivities. [These sensitivities require] action that is based on considerations beyond the principles of truth and justice. Sidelining the roles of others is not tolerated [in the Middle East], as some of history’s worst episodes have proven.

Foreign Minister Davutoglu came to Beirut and made time in his very busy schedule for an hour and a half long meeting with a group of intellectuals. [Davutoglu] started the meeting by announcing that he was there to listen and understand the criticism of Turkey’s foreign policy. Having carefully listened to his words, we expect this minister - who we hold in high esteem - to demonstrate more understanding for the reasons behind Turkey’s finding itself in the middle of a sea of animosity. [We hope that Davutoglu understands] how all of [Turkey’s foreign policy] accomplishments of the past [decade] have been reduced to zero in less than a year.

Turkey can still strike a new balance, so far as its foreign policy is concerned, because doing so would benefit both itself and its neighbors. The only question is, how?

Found in: zero problems with neighbors, turkish regional isolation, turkish involvement in the arab spring, turkish foreign policy, regional politics, history, french bill on armenian genocide, erdogan, davutoglu, armenian genocide, akp

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