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Turkey’s Foreign Policy Dilemma

Turkey’s Foreign Policy Dilemma

President Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s reinvigorated friend and regional partner, Vladimir Putin, president of Russia hails Turkey’s stance against US president Trump and his administration’s “economic warfare” on Turkey. So does the Iranian president Hassan Rouhani.

China’s president Xi Jinping, with the state-owned banking giant The Industrial and Commercial Bank of China (ICBC) already lent Turkey $3.6 billion in July. When asked about the investment, Foreign Ministry spokesperson Lu Yi said that this to be a loan for the energy and transportation sector and that China had always attached importance to the economic, trade and financial ties it has with Turkey.

International observers say, financial support by China and Qatar may very well help postpone Turkey’s short-term economic crisis, aggravated by a trade war with the United States, fueled by both countries’ domestic policy concerns as well as Turkey’s structural problems, mostly caused by President Erdogan’s, at best unorthodox, economic theories.

The USA is running up to midterm elections, to be held most probably on Tuesday, November 6, 2018 and Turkey going to yet to another, this time local elections to be held in March of 2019, if it is not pulled forward to perhaps even November of this year.

It is now widely understood that the doctrine of geopolitics is going through a radical paradigm shift affecting international relations and foreign policy of almost every country around the World, exacerbated by president Trump’s bullying attitude.

When we look at Turkey’s new friends and partners we find paradoxes. Turkey is fervently supporting Palestine’s fight against “the criminal state” Israel as President Erdogan put it and yet we do not hear much, almost no squeak about the Turkic Uyghur and ethnic minority Central Asian Muslim communities in China.

The Soviet Union had been instrumental in the establishment of the terror organization PKK (Partiya Karkerên Kurdistanê – Kurdistan Workers’ Party) founded by the now jailed Abdullah Ocalan on November 5, 1978 in Lice, Diyarbakir with a Marxist/Leninist doctrine. Ocalan was captured in Kenya 19 years ago on February 15, 1999, however, there have been allegations that he had been “served” by the US to the Turkish intelligence agency MIT on condition that the death sentence was abolished by Turkey which had been “complied to” by the Prime Bulent Ecevit lead DSP + ANAP + MHP coalition government in the 125 seating of the Turkish Grand Assembly on August 2, 2002.

While Erdogan is accusing the US for their help and support to the PYD, YPG and SDG today, almost two decades have past since the Soviet Union has crumbled, Ocalan is an old grey haired inmate, Mr. Bulent Ecevit has passed, President Erdogan’s AKP is in its 16th year in government, Turkish political governance system has changed and a new world order is marching in and yet, Russian officials have participated in the opening ceremony and conference of the PYD representative office in Moscow only two years ago, in February of 2016.

We are used to Erdogan’s rhetorical zigzags and U-turns, like in the Mavi Marmara flotilla case of May 30, 2010, when the Israeli Defense Forces had intercepted and landed with its Special Forces on the ship in international waters, 73 miles off Israel’s shores. He had initially praised the effort in a public speech on July 17, 2014 but told off IHH, the NGO leading the flotilla, on June 29, 2016, not having asked for permission from him as the Prime Minister of the day.

The gridlock in Idlib poses an intriguing opportunity to observe President Erdogan’s charisma and cunning in as much that once again the parties ranging from Russia, Iran, Syria on one side and the US with its allies, including the PYD/YPG on the other; add a few components of the Free Syrian Army, proxies of the Iranian Revolutionary Guard, sprinkle some dissident Sunni rebel groups and top it all of with Chinese, Japanese and Korean concerns waiting eagerly to pounce on business opportunities in the rebuilding and reconstruction of a new Syria, in whichever structure it may be resurrected.

Mustafa Kemal Ataturk has once said: “Foreign policy must be based on domestic capacity and domestic politics, that is, not to exceed one’s capaccity. Otherwise, those who wander in pursuit of imaginary foreign policies will lose their fulcrum on one’s own accord. In order to be strong in foreign policies one needs strong domestic policies. Nevertheless, a policy cannot live on unless it is a state and nation policy. The life of people is short …”

President Erdogan has on numerous occasions spoken against and even insulted both Ataturk and Inonu, considered to be the founding fathers of modern Turkey by some, to the extent that on one occasion he has referred to them as “two drunkards”. Over the years, this insinuation has evolved into praise exceeding into “One flag, one homeland, one state, and one nation”. There are critics who claim that they are more resonant of another undesirable Western historic figure rather than anything that Ataturk might have said on the topic. The Turkish media is abundant with articles and resources supporting all of these claims.

Turkish nationalism’s arch enemy for decades has been the “Moskof” referring to Russia, instilling fear and hatred among the pious, nationalist and patriotic masses eager to direct their enmity towards an centuries-old adversary. Today, President Erdogan’s local partner Mr. Bahceli, leader of the MHP (Nationalist Movement Party) is so sensitive about the delicate balances that he refrains from uttering any words, which may be detrimental to the Turkish-Russian or Turkish-Chinese partnership.

This coming Friday, on September 7, Russia, Iran and Turkey are meeting once again to discuss how to move forward in Syria, in particular Idlib. Iran and Russia have too much at stake in Iraq, Syria and the Eastern Mediterranean that as longer standing partners than Turkey it is only expected that they will push their terms on Turkey. Only last week, Mevlut Cavusoglu, Turkey’s Minister of Foreign Affairs, the freshly promoted Minister of Defence, former Chief of Staff Hulusi Akar and Turkish National Intelligence Agency Chief Hakan Fidan have all sat across the table with President Putin and his team trying to persuade them not to initiate a military campaign which among other side-effects would cause one more large refugee influx towards Turkey.

In the meantime, Russian Foreign Minister Lavrov has already stated in a speech he has held at a university in Moscow recently that “what goes on in Idlib can’t be tolerated” and that “the Syrian Army has every right to clear Idlib of militants”. Protests against Iran’s policies in Iraq, Syria and Lebanon are not only being criticized by the international community, but also by the local Shiite population of these countries.

Russia and the USA are continuing negotiations on Syria; both sides keep stringing the Kurds along with the dream of an independent state or at least autonomy in Rojawa; whilst the PYD/YPG has already offered help and assistance towards the Syrian government in “cleansing” Idlib of radical Sunni terrorists. And let’s not forget that our Sunni brethren in Saudi Arabia have offered the PYD/YPG a lot of US Dollars in their efforts to build their country and nation.

What is happening at sea is not much different from that on land. Nearly all countries with shores to the Eastern Mediterranean, including Russia who legally doesn’t shore on the Mediterranean but has the Greek Orthodox Church to thank for the networks and relations, have struck strategic alliances, commercial partnerships and other arrangements to explore, dig and drill for oil and gas. Exploration reports are galore and pipelines are being drawn on maps in all directions, mainly flowing towards the West. But Turkey is not included in any of those deals.

While all this is going on, Foreign Minister Cavusoglu reiterated “Turkey aims for a closer cooperation with the European Council”. A few days later President Erdogan flew to Bishkek to meet with the heads of states of Turkic Republics. “We are proposing to trade in our own currencies rather than U.S. Dollar” Erdogan told at the 6th Summit of the Turkic Council. Presidents of Azerbaijan, Kazakhstan, Kirghizstan and Uzbekistan, and the Hungarian Prime Minister, participating in the event as an observer, were listening but didn’t appear too impressed.

May I just say that I feel for diplomats who are posted in Turkey. What goes on in Turkey in a day may not even be thought of in a month elsewhere.

There is never a dull moment and not a boring day in Turkey.

About The Author

Ahmet Dogan

Political, societal and security risk analyst.

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