Turkey between rhetoric and reality

Originally published in the Arab daily newspaper “Al-Quds Al-Arabi”, issue 9104, p. 21, on Feb. 23, 2018

Many of the political experts keep on relating history to the present by establishing historical antagonism and friendship as a basis for international policy-making. But the first and most important rule to be set in the analysis of any international development is that in politics there is no permanent enemy or permanent friend, only common or conflicting interests.

The current Turkish administration is the best example of a revision of its international and regional relations. For the last three years, Turkey’s foreign policy has been a tacit puzzle for political observers, with some predicting a resurgent economic downturn. Some have also seen signs of a military start, some of them insist that the Turkish civil war is no more than a matter of time, and some of them praised the Turkish Sultan as the new conqueror. However, the reality of the situation proves that the Turkish administration is politically very intelligent, only promoting its national interests.

As a Greek political researcher, Turkey has always been a matter of personal focus on successive governments, military balances, and parties, even the language of domestic and foreign political discourse. The common history between our two countries is of great importance. However, Erdoğan’s administration displays special skills in the form of political discourse, using two types that need to be differentiated: the first type of speech is more rigid and populist, where Turkish officials place many red and green lines, singing their history and threaten wars and conquests. This type of discourse is generally used internally. The second type is positive, pragmatic, and diplomatic, respecting international and regional agreements and balances and is used externally. This is where many political analysts draw their conclusions about the conflicts associated with Turkey in accordance with the first type of speech, which leads to an error in their assessment.

In the Turkish-European relationship, as an example of a multiplicity of speeches, Ankara stood firm after Erdoğan’s success in the testing of constitutional amendments that made him the first and final decision maker in Ankara’s international and domestic policy. He stressed in his speeches that Turkey will not insist again on joining the European Union, but his frequent – almost weekly – contacts with French President Macron, and the communication of Turkish officials with close associates of the German Chancellor Merkel in the recent period to support the formation of a coalition government to get Germany of the political stalemate, reinforces the idea of Turkey’s necessity  to list of candidates for EU membership.

In the case of the Syrian crisis, where Turkey is a important factor in the evolution of its stages, there is a contradiction in its statements applied on the ground. The battle of Halab* and the events before and after it show that the Turkish Red Line did not affect the control of Assad, and his supporters – Russia and Iran – in this strategic city. When reading the details of this battle, we see that Ankara has somehow facilitated control of the opposing side.

The Euphrates Shield and Olive Branch operations make it clear that Ankara’s unique red line on the Syrian map is Kurdish influence. Nothing else. Although, it coincided with Moscow in the Euphrates Shield Operation in 2016, in the case of Olive Branch it opposed. In the circumstances of the Euphrates Shield Moscow found that the timing  to build a united ground with Ankara was appropriate so it supported it because of international and regional conditions and the tension of Western-Turkish relations. In the circumstances of the Olive Branch, Moscow has become stronger on the ground. The Kurdish militias in Afrin showed a convergence that could be a gateway to the withdrawal of the Syrian Kurds from the American hand. Moscow has worked to disrupt this operation.

Turkish-Russian relations are a distinct example of conflict and reconciliation between countries depending on the moment. They reached at the point that Russian researchers close to the decision-makers in Moscow wrote about options of military engagement and the possibility of Moscow’s use of nuclear weapons against Ankara after the downing of the Russian aircraft. The same analysts returned to write lengthy articles on the importance of the selling the S-400 system to Turkey and its implications on NATO. They even extended the level of bilateral relations to the extent that they expect Turkey to be an ally of Russia in the next world war with the West. The fact is that the two countries currently share common geopolitical and economic interests.

In reality, the Syrian crisis is a link between international conflicts and alliances. The future of the region and the world in general will be based on its results. Some of them may seem to be in their final hours, but the fact is that we are standing hours away from an impending international turn that may lead to a new exit or a greater tangle.

Yes, Ankara stands as the last active supporter of the Syrian revolutionaries. The Arab brothers were in harmony with their size in the struggle of the great elephants. Some of them went to the cave to sleep and evade a storm on their way to the desert hoping that after 309 years** things will be improved. But if Ankara restricts its action in the Syrian crisis to the Kurdish threat, will not bring down the dictator of the Muhajireen palace***. Its engagement in stabilizing the cessation of hostilities in the north between the Syrian opposition and the Assad militia may in one way or another mean its transformation into a Trojan horse used by Moscow to enter the last Syrian stronghold of the revolution. So who is hoping that Hijaz railway**** is expected to be enough to protect you, should rethink that Turkey puts its own interests above yours.

* Aleppo
** In Christian and Islamic tradition, the Seven Sleepers of Ephesus is the story of a group of youths who hide inside a cave outside the city of Ephesus around 250 AD to escape a religious persecution and emerge 309 years later.
*** Damascus presidential palace
**** This railway was constructed during the Ottoman occupation to connect Medina and Mecca to Istanbul, crossing all Syrian big cities.