November 27, 2015
The downing of a Russian jet over Syria by the Turkish military brings to a sad conclusion a hitherto promising international relations agenda, whose author was none other than Ahmet Davutoglu, the current Turkish prime minister.
Only a few years ago, Davutoglu as Turkey’s foreign minister advanced a “zero problems with the neighbours” diplomatic agenda. Turkey’s economic and diplomatic relations with Moscow, meanwhile, had evolved from fair to excellent, as one would expect from two major Eurasian powers with similar development objectives and interests in the region spanning from Central Asia to the Middle East.
The two countries – Russia and Turkey – are neither European nor entirely Asian. They are neither rich nor poor and both have experienced problems with Islamic radicalism or outright terrorism. For a while, even in military terms, Turkey has tried a few years back to leave the Cold War-era NATO structures and seek admission within the SCO, the new up-and-coming security organization designed specifically for dealing with the challenges of the Eurasian region.
Not anymore. Since the war in Syria, the Turkish leadership’s geopolitical agenda got confused. Ankara’s ambition of exporting its Islamic brand of democracy to the Arab world, from Tunisia to Egypt or Syria, is now in shambles.
Internally, Turkey is nowadays a divided country as a result of the November 1st parliamentary elections that gave, nevertheless, the AK Party another mandate to stay in power a few years longer.
The 2002 victory of political Islam was a direct consequence of the failure of the Turkish brand of secularism to build a truly democratic and inclusive society. Subsequent efforts by the AKP to give Kurds more autonomy and recognize the rights of the Alevi religious minority have similarly failed, transforming Turkey into a reluctant and erratic NATO ally, a menacing neighbour for Greece and the European Union as a whole and, as of a few days ago, an enemy of Russia.
Undaunted, Recep Tayyip Erdogan has failed to see the error of his ways and is blindly pushing for a re-write of the Turkish constitution that would change the country from a parliamentary to a presidential republic which nobody seems to want, not even some leading figures within the AKP.
Since the war in Kosovo and the invasion of Iraq, the world has slowly abandoned globalization as a universal objective of economic and political development. What we are currently witnessing is the onset of the age of geopolitics, characterized by a plethora of civil wars, like in Syria, Iraq or Libya, and of proxy wars between military blocs, such as the one in Georgia (in 2008) or the present-day war in Ukraine, not to mention the conflict in Yemen and beyond in the Middle East.
In such troubled times, it is imperative for large countries like Turkey to articulate a revamped geopolitical agenda for its leadership. The further Islamization of Turkish society is definitely not the answer to its current predicament, while economic and military conflict with its much larger and much more powerful Eurasian neighbour Russia should have been avoided at all costs.
Moreover, being soft on ISIS, selling weapons and buying oil from them – a fact uncovered by both the American and the Russian intelligence establishments – will not bring about a quick demise of the Assad regime, as Ankara expected. As Vladimir Putin correctly observed, the military situation in Syria cannot change by bombing campaigns alone. Since all interested countries in the Syrian developments are reluctant to provide boots on the ground, Assad’s army, with its Hezbollah associates, is the only force involved in large-scale ground operations against ISIS and other terrorist groups.
Last but not least, Turkey would be well-advised to reverse its current practice of allowing waves of Syrian migrants to cross to Europe in their hundreds of thousands. The recent approach adopted by the AKP in their negotiations with the EU has an important blackmail component and could turn decisively the entire European Union, Germans included, against Turkey. Already it stands to lose tens of billions of dollars in lost tourism revenue from Russia, as well as from exports and projects in that country. If German tourists were likewise of a mind to punish Ankara for allowing the migrant exodus towards Europe, then the entire Turkish economy would nosedive and growth would evaporate altogether.
One can only hope that sanity will prevail in the end, that Turkey will apologize to Russia and start to live up to its responsibilities when it comes to stopping the current wave of Syrians en route for Europe. After all, Turkey – and not the EU – was the most enthusiastic and vocal supporter of the anti-Assad rebellion in Syria…Florian Pantazi