It might be a good idea to make an objective general assessment of Turkish Foreign Policy in 2014 during the last days of the year. This year Turkish Foreign Policy had some successes as well as some problems. One good thing is that the new dynamism in Turkish Foreign Policy which started in the early 2000s continued to grow and Turkey had more weight in the world media. Now, let us look that these successes and problems.
The most successful issue in Turkish Foreign Policy in 2014 was the strengthening of bilateral relations with Azerbaijan. It is a fact that it would not be a good idea to create problems in bilateral relations of two countries whose people see each other as brothers. Although Turkish-Azerbaijani relations had some problems related to the protocols signed with Armenia upon the pressure coming from EU and USA and Azerbaijan flags were banned in the soccer match between Turkey and Armenia just few years ago, nowadays relations seem very solid and strong. With Trans-Anatolian pipeline project (TANAP) and Baku-Tblisi-Erzurum pipeline, relations reached a strategic level in terms of energy politics. In 2014, with the inclusion of cooperation in defence industries and Baku-Tblisi-Kars railway project, this strategic relation reached its highest level. Moreover, the inclusion of Georgia as the third actor into this equation increased the potential of regional cooperation and stability. Nowadays, Turkey’s Western allies also seem to have understood this special bond between two nations and may arrange their foreign policies according to this new dynamic. However, there might be some problems in the near future concerning the bilateral relations of these countries since Turkey is a NATO member trying to become a full member of EU, whereas Azerbaijan tries to follow an independent foreign policy without becoming member of international organizations such as EU, NATO or Eurasian Economic Union for the moment. The key point here for both sides is to arrange their foreign policy priorities according the each others’ sensitivities. Azerbaijan President Mr. Ilham Aliyev’s responsible behaviour in defending Turkish interests upon the non-diplomatic accusations of Armenian President of the Republic Serzh Sargsyan in an international conference where Turkey was not represented during this year, was an earlier signal and a successful example of developing strategic relations. Things can go well for these two countries as long as Turkey defends Azerbaijani interests in Western international platforms including NATO and EU and Azerbaijan defends Turkish interests in Caucasia and particularly against Russia. The redoubling of economic investments on both sides and close cooperation between universities, civil society organizations and think-tanks might help these countries to deepen their strategic relations further in the future.
Another succesful issue in Turkish Foreign Policy in 2014 was related to the Cyprus Dispute. Thanks to the efforts of Turkish Ministry of Foreign Affairs and TRNC government, nowadays the international public opinion is in favor of Turkish Cypriots and Turkey which have always supported peace and settlement in the island unlike Greek Cypriots who want secession (as it was proven by the Annan Plan referendum in 2004). As a response to economic agreements of South Cyprus government with some energy companies and the beginning of drilling activities prior to a full settlement in the island, Turkey sent its warships to the East Mediterranean in this year in order to show that it has no joke concerning the solution of the problem and it will never allow Greek Cyriots to take advantage of hydrocarbon resources unless they give Turkish Cypriots their share. This was a successful implementation of Turkey’s hard power and can change the balance in the island in short time period. Energy companies may not prefer confrontational areas which are open to military escalation to make business.
Another successful issue in Turkish Foreign Policy during this year was the demonstration of Turkish nation’s greatness once again upon the tragedy going on in Syria. Turkey hosts approximately 2 million Syrian refugees now in its territory. Because of the inability of Turkish political leaders to show this great humanitarian aspect of Turkish Foreign Policy, as well as their radical Islamist image, Turkey could not get enough credits for this benevolence from the international public. However, if a European country instead of Turkey would have hosted 2 million refugees, I am sure that their President will win the Nobel Peace Prize without any objection.
Turkey was also successful in handling its relations with Russian Federation during this year although two countries hold extremely opposite views concerning Syrian crisis. During Russian President Vladimir Putin’s last visit few days ago, Turkey and Russia agreed on a new pipeline project instead of South Stream and decided to develop their economic relations rapidly in the years to come. This was in accordance with Turkey’s energy policy focusing on transforming into an “energy hub” in the region linking the East to the West. However, because of the recent confrontation between the West and Russia, Turkey could be seriously harmed as a NATO member country in the near future since the country is heavily dependent (60 %) on Russian gas. Turkey must diversify its gas supplies by getting into closer relations with Azerbaijan, Iran and potentially with other Turkic states. If the West decides to cut its ties with Russia completely in the future, Turkey could face an energy crisis.
Turkish-American relations were also not very problematic in 2014. Although US government obviously has some concerns about Turkish democracy (especially in relation to freedom of press and freedom of expression), Turkish statesmen had many meetings with American statesmen including Joe Biden and John Kerry in this year which had some constructive consequences. Two countries have similar opinions over the Syrian civil war and Cyprus Dispute, but they have some disagreements concerning the ways that will be employed for the solution of these problems. Turkey has the condition of the removal Bashar al-Assad and a Sunni-based government in Damascus, whereas USA now gives more emphasis to struggle against the ISIS. If Turkish government could limit itself within the boundaries of a liberal democratic regime (which seems really difficult with the recent pressures over the media), Turkey might enjoy further autonomy in the eyes of USA as one of the few secular and democratic countries in the region (together with Israel, Tunisia and TRNC).
After the fall of Nouri al-Maliki government, Turkey also had positive relations with Iraqi central government as well as Kurdistan Regional Government in 2014. Moreover, the country enjoyed further diplomatic, economic and cultural relations with Asian and African countries throughout this year, which should be stated as an important success.
Turkish Foreign Policy also had many failures in 2014. First of all, growing concern in the Western world about the authoritarian practices of the government as well as increasing governmental pressures over the media and judiciary, created a negative image for the country in the world. Liberal Western critics wrote extensively against Turkish government which overshadowed Turkey’s rightful position in many international issues. For instance, a faux-pas made by Turkish President of the Republic (then Prime Minister) Mr. Recep Tayyip Erdoğan about Armenians, was used against Turkey to defend Armenian interests. At that point, the image and rhetoric problem of Turkish politicians continue to cause troubles for the national interests of the country.
Another important problem was related to the ineffective positioning of the Turkish government against the ISIS terrorism. It is a fact that Turkey could not assume a single role in the struggle against the ISIS, but it could do much more about the protection of its borders by providing at least internal security since many of the ISIS militants pass to Syria from Turkish borders. At this point, the stubborn positioning of Turkish Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoğlu about the removal of Assad government, prevents Turkey and USA, as well as Turkey and Iran to develop extensive plans for the elimination of ISIS brutality.
Another problematic part of Turkish Foreign Policy was related to the inefficieny of the government to devise policies against the Armenian claims in the wake of 100th anniversary of 1915 events. It is a fact that Armenia is a fanatically nationalist state, aiming to make these nations enemy to each other for a century old events which took place in a very different world, where none of us were even present. However, Turkey should have been more competent to respond to the propaganda activities of this small Russian satellite state which tries to create enmities between nations and still occupying 20 % of Azerbaijani lands thanks to Russian military support. History can be used to create further problems and hatred feelings between nations (like Armenians have been doing) or to make peace with nations (like President Obama is doing right now with Cuba). Unfortunately, Turkey is faced with a nation that spreads hatred everywhere against itself (similar to Greek Cypriots) and could not do anything to change this. Armenians spend billions of dollars to the promotion of movies about 1915 events and so-called “Armenian Genocide” although their people live in extreme poverty. However, Turkish government seems uninterested towards this issue and did nothing to promote Turkish views during the last year. Here, we should also point out the irresponsible policies of some European countries who try to provocate these nations (Armenians and Turks) against each other. If European states are so curious about history, they might look at their massacres until the 1960s in their colonies or make a research about the history of Turkic nations who were subjected to genocides and forced migrations in the times of USSR (Crimean Tatars, Ahiska Turks etc). Constructive British positioning on this issue, should be a good example for other European states.
Although the tone of Sunnism in Turkish Foreign Policy is reduced compared to earlier years, Turkey still has many problems with states in the Shiite axis. Here Turkish government should never forget that Turkey is a secular and democratic state unlike Shiite states. These states might pursue Shiite-oriented foreign policy but this should not direct Turkey to pursue Sunni interests in the region. Turkey should continue not to make a sectarian preference in its foreign policy, otherwise it will be a part of this problem. In that sense, in addition to Azerbaijan, Turkey could develop its relations with Iran since, under the Presidency of Hassan Rouhani, this country chose the way of reform and democratic development by giving up from its nuclear aims and anti-Western rhetoric. This policy can also take support from American President Barack Obama, who wants to dedicate Iranian nuclear deal as his gift to the humanity in the last years of his Presidency.
The worst part of Turkish Foreign Policy adventures in 2014 was related to relations between Egypt and Israel. Turkey as a democratic country, obviously could not hold a very favorable view of the military backed government in Cairo, but maybe it was not very wise to cut all ties with this country since it has a lot of weight in the Arab world and has a saying concerning the transportation of East Mediterranean hydrocarbon resources. Similarly, Turkey might get along better with Israel although it should not have to change its ethically favorable view of Palestinians. At a time when Realism is coming back to the town, Turkey should be more focused on its national interests and take Israeli support in some issues. Turkey should not be more Arab nationalist than Arab states but obviously the foreign policy understanding of Turkish President Mr. Erdoğan and Turkish PM Mr. Davutoğlu is based on Arab nationalism and Islamism, since they care about Arab people more than the oppressed Turkic people including Azeris, Uygur Turks, Turkish Cypriots and Turcomans. It must be also added that, except for growing economic investments, Arab states never helped Turkey in its foreign policy causes (recognition of TRNC or support for false Armenian claims about 1915 events) until now and just looked at their own national interests.
Last problematic part of Turkish Foreign Policy was related to Turkish accession into the EU. Although French President of the Republic François Hollande gave more positive signals for the opening of new chapters, Turkey did not have a progressing situation in terms of its EU membership ideal. Interestingly, although Turkey has very good economic relations with Germany, politically, the country seems unable to change or soften German chancellor Angela Merkel’s negative view about Turkish membership into the club. Maybe Turkish accession to EU will never take place, but still Turkey should be more willingly to make progress concerning this issue since it will increase its democratic standards as well as its prestige in the world.
Top four names shaping Turkish Foreign Policy: Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, Ahmet Davutoğlu, Volkan Bozkır, Mevlüt Çavuşoğlu
As explained above, Turkish Foreign Policy had some good and negative developments in the year 2014. It is also interesting to see that, in accordance with Turkey’s multi-dimensional foreign policy, Turkish government has tried to give different roles to its top names. Turkish President of the Republic Mr. Erdoğan nowadays seems like a pro-Russian politician, always criticizing the Western civilization and aiming to limit Turkey’s ties with the Western world, whereas Turkish Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoğlu seems like favoring USA as a closer ally. EU Minister Volkan Bozkır and Minister of Foreign Affairs Mevlüt Çavuşoğlu on the other hand, seem closer to EU although they try to balance EU and Russian interests in their speeches and policies.
Assist. Prof. Dr. Ozan ÖRMECİ