The speeches and images at the AKP congress contained some meaningful messages regarding the orientation of Turkish foreign policy, its priorities and goals.
What we did we learn from the congress?
- Most of the foreign leaders invited to the congress were from Arab and Muslim countries, and almost none from Europe were apparent. While he sent his greetings to foreign countries as he began his speech, Prime Minister Erdogan ignored Europe. In the booklet explaining the AKP vision for Turkey in 2023 [the 100th anniversary of the Turkish Republic], relations with Europe merited only a single paragraph. This, of course, does not mean that the AKP government has given up on Europe and the EU. But it is clear that for reasons that are well known, the EU is no longer among the foreign-policy priorities of the government. Anyhow, world politics are currently focused on our region.
- It was significant that the foreign leaders who were invited to address the congress, Egyptian President Mohammed Morsi and Hamas political leader Khaled Meshaal, represented our region. The thunderous reception given Morsi and Meshaal illustrated beyond a doubt the preferences of the AKP base. That these two leaders are rooted in Islamic ideology reflected the AKP’s and Erdogan’s ideological affinity with them. The Arab Spring brought Islamic movements to power in Tunisia and Egypt. The Erdogan government is determined to develop close ties with these new governments and thus extend its own influence in the region. Such a strategy is most likely being crafted for the post-Assad era in Syria.
- In his speech, Erdogan did not mention the EU, but criticized European countries by including France and Germany in remarks about islamophobia. He was hard on Russia and Iran about Syria, saying “history will not forgive those who stand with the ruthless.” Erdogan repeated that relations with Armenia will not be established before the Karabakh issue is resolved. He again stressed that relations with Israel will not be normalized until three conditions, including the lifting of the Gaza blockade, are fulfilled. Erdogan considers these issues integral to bilateral relations.
- Morsi’s speech gave clues about the strategic partnership developing between Turkey and Egypt. This relationship will be solidified during Erdogan’s upcoming visit to Cairo. It is possible that these two countries could constitute the core of a new axis in the Middle East.
- In his speech, Meshaal heaped praise on Erdogan, saying he had the utmost confidence in him. For the Hamas leader, who had to escape from Syria and who even said that he might be leaving politics, this congress was a golden opportunity to showcase himself once more and restore his spirits. Feverish applause by the participants was proof of the AKP’s sympathy and support for Meshaal.
- One of the foreign leaders at the congress was Iraq’s Sunni Vice President Tariq al-Hashemi, ousted by Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki. Maliki did not want to come to Ankara, but the AKP’s seating of Hashemi among its guests clearly displayed the government’s Iraq policy.
- Giving the floor to Kurdish leader Massoud Barzani was a significant sign. Barzani stated that he wants to help Turkey solve the Kurdish issue. Erdogan, who wants to introduce a new approach to the issue, may well want to make use of this offer.
Thus, the AKP congress clearly enunciated the priorities and goals of AKP’s new strategy in foreign relations.
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