Turkey Struggles to Increase Exposure and Maintain Friends

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Turkey’s role in the region and the world has taken off since the outbreak of the Arab Spring in 2011, increasing its diplomatic and humanitarian presence, while also drawing the ire of some parties.

Yesterday, Sept. 3, a newspaper reported an attack against the convoy of the Turkish consul-general in Mosul, Iraq under the headline “Turkey is a target everywhere.” The report led with the comment, “Turkey, whose ‘zero problems with neighbors’ policy has become a ‘zero friends’ policy, is now facing attacks in all corners,” and recalled the attack against the Turkish embassy in Somalia and kidnapping of two Turkish pilots in Lebanon. But the newspaper’s linking of the targeting of Turks in Mosul and elsewhere to the claim that we have turned zero problems to zero friends simply misleads the readers.

It is true that the Justice and Development Party (AKP) government, with its reactions to the Gezi protests and the resulting polarization in the country, have disappointed those who supported its democratic moves. Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan yesterday was lashing out at the European Union that was criticizing his reactions to the Gezi protests with conspiracy theories as contradicting the freedoms of expression and assembly.

By blaming Israel for the coup in Egypt, Erdogan has angered US President Barack Obama, who was personally involved in patching up the relations between Israel and Turkey — relations that are vital to Middle East security. In Ankara, it is whispered that Obama has not scheduled an appointment for a one-on-one meeting with Erdogan at the G-20 summit that opened on Sept. 5 in Russia. In the Middle East, Turkey’s policies — which appear to be backing the Sunnis against the Shiites — disturb many. If it again steers toward the European Union, Turkey will be much more credible with the people who have risen against their despotic leaders.

I think the answer to why Turkey is becoming more of a target in all corners lies in Ankara’s ambitions to open up to the world and therefore become more visible. In recent years, Turkey increased its number of embassies in Africa and Latin American threefold. But the humanitarian assistance it is extending to Somalia is making some Western countries suspicious, as it has not coordinated with them in this regard.

Turkey wants to be a respected country in the world although its economic prowess is not adequate, and it is not using its human resources in the right way to support such a policy.

When you become more visible in the world, you also attract the attention of terror organizations and your citizens become targets of kidnapping, as happened in Afghanistan and Lebanon. For example, an organization in Lebanon is demanding the release of Shiite pilgrims held in Syria in return for the two abducted Turkish Airlines pilots, although those Shiites have nothing to do with Turkey.

Turkey’s global presence may be asserting itself more, while learning by experience that global diplomacy is much more complicated.

This is the dilemma of Turkey withdrawing its troops from Lebanon. Although Ankara says the decision was taken before the kidnapping of the pilots, the announcement of the withdrawal of its ground troops from the UN Interim Force in Lebanon (UNIFIL) coincided with that incident. Turkish troops withdrawn from the United Nations were deployed in an area where Hezbollah operates.

Turkey’s hasty departure from Lebanon — as if it were scared — contradicts its goal of becoming a country with influence in the international arena. On the contrary, Ankara should have kept its troops in that country at the most risky period. That is the prerequisite of becoming a growing, respected power. 

Lale Kemal (Sariibrahimoglu) is a columnist for the English-language daily Today's Zaman. She has also been the Turkey correspondent for the UK-based Jane's Defence Weekly since 1991.

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Found in: un in lebanon, un, akp
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