Search for alternative to Turkey’s foreign policy

The jet crisis between Turkey and Russia has reminded us that foreign policy may prove extremely fragile and variable despite all calculations and predictions. Bewildered by fluctuations in the country’s foreign policy, people are looking to foreign policy experts to guide them through the maze, to no avail. Attempts to analyze the situation as one wrought from self-defense have not helped cover up the fact that we nurture approaches which foster only short-term regional gains.

Looking at the list of unsound approaches to examine the existing risks, we see that a populist approach, seeking to influence and impress the public and make them forget about views advocated them in the past, has been readily utilized. For instance, Ramzan Kadyrov, the leader of Chechnya, who had long been advertised to the Turkish public as a friend of Turkey until very recently, shocked Turks with his anti-Turkish and pro-Russian remarks. In the past, certain conservative intellectuals would market Kadyrov as a very religious and charitable person, stigmatizing those who raised objections to this description as the enemy of Chechens. Ironically enough, the same intellectuals now rush to portray Kadyrov as an enemy. These intellectuals were silent even in the face of murders committed by Chechens in Turkey as well as the repatriation of Chechen families prevented from taking refuge in Turkey. Today, old Islamist reflexes have made a comeback in this environment of crisis, with efforts to denigrate Kadyrov and welcome Chechen families running away from Chechnya. Such approaches will not help us create sensible foreign policy.

‘Russia an indispensable partner’

Another example is that certain senior academics and journalists who praised Russia when Recep Tayyip Erdoğan opened a mosque in Moscow with Vladimir Putin are now acting as if they had never uttered those words. Some had even argued that Russia was an indispensable partner and that Turkey should leave NATO, but today they inexplicably rush to fling mud at Russia. We already know that they will assume their previous positions when the crisis with Russia ends. They will re-market and indomitably advocate alternatives like the Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO) and the Eurasian Economic Union (EUU) through their traditional hostility to the West. They fully acknowledge this proclivity in themselves but just try to make headway by pumping nationalist/religious sentiments into the masses. We have learned once again that this mentality cannot guide our foreign policy.

The populist approaches targeting public consumption aside, the ongoing crisis has taught us, at a high price, that we may have new opportunities by pursuing smarter policies. In this context, we need to revise our policies regarding the EU, the Caucasus and Central Asia. Thus, it is of great importance that we develop a new EU policy, taking advantage of the union’s well-intentioned approach, attributable to the refugee crisis. We must do something to make the EU change its traditional policy — consisting of sanctions and threats about stopping dialogue — toward Turkey and realize that they need Turkey in such cases as the aircraft crisis. We must stress that they cannot handle various powers in the region without developing good ties with Turkey. In short, we need to create an image of Turkey as a country with which they must cooperate, not as a country that they must threaten.

On the other hand, the Russian crisis has triggered significant developments in the Caucasus and Central Asia. Armenian authorities are acting as if to prove their loyalty to Russia. Claiming that Armenian products are of higher quality than their Turkish counterparts, Armenia’s Ministry of Agriculture announced that they are ready to export goods to Russia. Asserting that Turks have dominated the market so far, some papers wrote that this crisis is a great chance for Armenians. Former Deputy Prime Minister of Armenia Vahan Shirhanyan described the development as a historic opportunity for Armenia and suggested that Armenia should exhibit its loyalty to Russia in every manner. Officials called on Turkey not to show interest in the Nagorno-Karabakh issue anymore because Russia will build peace in the region.

‘Armenian officials should not be deceived by Russia’s promises’

On the other hand, political scientist Alexander Manasyan stated that Armenians should pay no attention to pro-Armenian remarks by Russian officials. Pointing out that Russia will seek to use the 1915 incidents as a weapon in this crisis, Manasyan advised that Armenian officials should not be deceived by Russia’s promises of giving Eastern Anatolia to Armenia. In the same vein, Aghasi Yenokyan and Alexander Markarov suggested that Armenians should ignore Russia’s slogans designed to flatter their pride and focus on the EU rather than the Eurasian Union. Armenian officials’ hasty support for Russia versus civil society’s call for moderation portends deep-running disagreement between the government and the opposition in Armenia. If Turkey had a good EU policy, it would serve as a source of motivation not only for Georgia but also for Armenia.

Azerbaijan and Kazakhstan, on the other hand, offered to mediate between Turkey and Russia regarding the crisis, and the approaches are certainly praiseworthy. In particular, Azerbaijan opted to help Turkey at the risk of attracting Russian pressure, suggesting that Turkish lorries could use the Caspian Corridor for transit. This should be appreciated.

Despite the fact that Turkish foreign policy has led to heavy investment in Arabic countries so far, these countries have chosen to remain neutral over the crisis. Accordingly, Turkic countries’ well-meaning initiatives should be instructive.

We should take advantage by creating policies that focus on the Turkic world, as was the case in the time of Turgut Özal and Süleyman Demirel. Therefore, to provide alternative allies during the crisis, Turkey could develop a “regional partner” policy geared toward the Turkic world, where it should refrain from assuming a “big brother” position.

Whether or not the crisis with Russia ends soon, Turkey will always require the foreign policy that elicits high-level cooperation in all areas, without discriminating between Eastern and Western countries, allows it to play a role as a mediator in regional problems and secure new economic and energy-centric alternatives.

Mehmet Fatih OZTARSU
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