Following the victory of the Islamist Justice and Development Party in 2002 and rise to the power new elites in Turkey, the country witnessed paradigmatic changes the main roots of which lie in redefinition of the country’s identity. The redefinition of Turkish identity has, in turn, led to review of national interests which are followed by the foreign policy. The review of interests is observable through the “strategic depth doctrine” of Ahmet Davutoglu, the country’s former foreign minister.
Presenting his new doctrine in a book titled “Strategic Depth “, Davutoglu suggested a civilizational influence region for Turkey including the Middle East, some parts of the Central Asia and Caucasus. Turkey was suggested to play a leading role in this influence region as Ankara recognizes itself as the inheritor of the Ottoman Empire. Such an idea is identified as neo-Ottomanism.
Aside from these changes, in past few years, specifically after the Arab uprisings of 2011, the Turkish government gave its policies tactical shifts, resulting in critical conditions for Ankara.
Wrong response to regional equations
A part of the changes are related to the central Turkish government’s positions and policies in the region. In fact, just before eruption of 2011 Arab uprisings, the Turkish government held friendly relations with Egypt’s Hosni Mubarak, Libya’s Muammar Gaddafi and Tunisia’s Zine El Abidine Ben Ali. However, after 2011, to establish its own version of political Islam, the Turkish government has backed such opposition groups as Muslim Brotherhood. But the Turkish strategy proved not convenient because only after a year, the Muslim Brotherhood-led government in Egypt was removed from power. The same Ankara failure was repeated in Syria as Turkey made a shift from being a friend to Syria’s President Bashar al-Assad to a country in front of the Syrian leader. To put it another way, Ankara’s arrangements and moves have failed to bring down Syria’s Assad. The support of such groups as Ahrar ash-Sham and Free Syrian Army— both fighting the central Syrian government— has brought about for Ankara a global image of “terrorist groups’ supporter.”
Fluctuation in ties with Europe
Another part of the Turkish policy shifts are concerned with cooperation and at the same time confrontation with the EU. In past few years, the Turkish political system has been cited as an archetype of democracy for the other countries of the West Asian region. But the recently passed bill of the Turkish parliament for stripping the lawmakers of their immunity is believed to have put the last nail in the coffin of Turkish democracy experience after wide-ranging human rights violations, clampdown on the journalists and a full-scale confrontation with the established secular values of the society.
The recent domestic tensions of Turkey not only pushed chilled relations with the EU but also killed the hopes for seeing Turkey transform to a top pattern of democracy in the region.
Turkey’s bid for being a member of the EU dates back to1987, the time when Ankara sent its membership request to Brussels as the capital of the European Union. But the country was not considered an official candidate of membership until 1999. The EU membership bidders have to adopt the Union’s laws. The adoption takes place gradually within 35 steps. Turkey has so far passed only the first step of the process to join the EU which is initial negotiations. 15 other steps are under discussion while some steps like freedom of movements are still not started.
Perhaps one of the major sticking points is that such key EU powers as France and Germany are not interested to have Turkey inside their bloc. They insist that Turkey is not geographically part of Europe and so it could not be a member of the EU.
The EU uses the privilege of membership in negotiations with Ankara over return of the Syrian refugees to Turkey. This behavior, however, has drawn Ankara’s tough reaction. The Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has slated the EU for it discriminatory behavior of not accepting a Muslim country as its member, calling the European bloc a “Christian club.”
The EU’s blames of Turkey on violations of human rights and crackdown on journalism imply that Erdogan has left the EU membership ambitions and negotiations. In fact, the ongoing tensions of Ankara with some members of the EU, specifically Germany, have spurred Ankara’s approach towards the East. Actually, Turkey has ignored many of the EU’s values and interests in its foreign policy maneuverings.
The Kurdish issue and escaping forward
On the other side, Erdogan’s fresh policies including halting peace negotiations with the Kurds have damaged the country’s image in the region. The negotiations, which were arranged to reach a settlement for the conflicts with the Kurds, saw a special dynamism in 2014, strengthening the hopes for finding a solution for the decades-long Kurdish issue. Even a summit was held in Turkey titled “the Kurdish issue and the negotiation process”, gathering together Kurds from across the country as prospects of peace grew bigger. But what started as peace process in 2009 and hit its climax in 2012 has now ended up to be a full-scale war against the Kurds.
In fact, after June 2015 parliamentary election, Erdogan began a double-front fight against the Kurds. On the one hand he waged a war against Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) in southeast of the country and Qandil Mountains and on the other hand launched a political retaliation against the country’s Kurdish People’s Democratic Party. Now the Turkish president is moving between these two lines in a bid to, at the end of the road, ban the Kurdish major party.
This approach automatically pushes the Kurds resorting to military solutions and instruments. This could supply the Turkish community with the notion that the Kurds of the country are means in the hands of the foreign powers and so are working to split the country. The efforts of Turkey’s Erdogan to save support of the Turkish nationalists after last June’s parliamentary election echoes Leo Strauss’ idea of creation of “false threat.”
According to the German-American political philosopher Strauss a political system unites only when there is a foreign threat and if the threat does not exist it must be forged. Perhaps the best example available is the depicting as a security threat the issue of the Kurds by the Turkish government— a shift from peace process to creation of a fake enemy and so playing victim. In other words, branding the Kurdish groups as terrorists, Erdogan has tried to justify his heavy-handed campaign against the Kurds in five Turkish provinces in southeast of the country and also shelling of the Kurdish areas of the neighboring Syria.
But why has Turkey moved to such risky changes? Ahmet Davutoglu in his article ” Turkish Foreign Policy Vision: An Assessment of 2007″ has noted that Turkey did not want to be part of policies to contain NATO but it sought a new direction for having influence on the regional and global dynamism. These calculations foresaw a brilliant future for Turkey with consideration of an honorable lost past. The article lays bare Ankara’s intention to shift from a bridge between East and West to a gate, a gate for transforming to leadership of the Muslim world.
Although the architect of this policy is Davutoglu, definitely the major implementer is Erdogan. In fact, these changes are directed by Erdogan who dreams of new Ottoman Empire. But his pathways have proven causing crises for Ankara.