A new beginning for Turkey
Turkey entered the New Year in an interesting mood.
While organized celebrations were banned by the Istanbul authorities, spontaneous gatherings happened on the streets to cheer the advent of a new year with new hopes. This type of behavior is a sign of the times. Turkish people have been depressed for too long. Political debates have replaced friendly chats and people have got tired of everyday violence, whether on the streets or on social networks.
But to say that everything can become nicer and easier is a distant hope. Our neighbor Iran is currently being rocked by social turmoil, and we as Turks are paralyzed by the prospect of how things could unfold. For the die-hard conservative supporters of President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, almost everything can be labelled a “foreign intervention.” Part of our society has a serious trouble understanding that people can resist corruption and price hikes and demand a better life. According to them, as long as you can take home enough money to feed your household, you should be grateful to your “father state.”
Iranians, on the other hand, have a tradition of rising up. They have done it again and again. Whether toppling the Shah Mohammad Reza Pahlavi or ousting Mahmoud Ahmadinejad from the presidency, Iranians wait patiently before taking to the streets. Unlike previous times, President Hassan Rouhani has remained calm and kept the channels open. If these protests take as their starting point Iranian money flushing religious foundations that sponsor militias inside Iraq and Syria, Ankara must be at least a bit pleased.
Turkish Foreign Ministry’s statement of “concern” is relatively balanced. Some pro-government media outlets are chanting that the protests are part of the “great game to topple governments in the Middle East.” While those that resent Iranian influence in Iraq, and especially the Tehran-backed militia group Hashd al-Shaabi’s success against Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL), are quiet. But if this latter group perceive the present unrest as an opportunity to depose Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, they may be disappointed.
On the other hand, good tidings have come from France. Erdoğan’s trip to Paris this week to meet with French President Emmanuel Macron is an attempt to revitalize EU-Turkey relations as well as discuss some of the harsh realities of the region. France and Russia are set to be the main decision makers in the Syrian crisis as of this year. U.S. presence and aid to Kurdish groups maybe more shop talk than reality, but Kurds in the North will be the protectors of the secular system in a deeply Sunni area.
This is a major reason why Turkey is looking for openings in Europe. Daily Hürriyet’s seasoned business columnist Erdal Sağlam has written that Turkey’s economy cannot handle the current spending spree as far as 2019. “Oil prices and dollar will probably increase. If you also include the penalties that Turkey will have to pay over the [Iran-sanctions] court case in the U.S., it will be a rough year. On top of that, if political isolation continues and the [ruling] Justice and Development Party (AKP) keeps its tough rhetoric, the effects on the economy will be more devastating,” he wrote. Turkey will see a lot more internal maneuvering this year. To stay balanced, it needs stronger external anchors. With Macron’s help, Ankara may find the voice it desperately needs. Iran could change overnight and for the better, becoming the partner the entire world has been waiting for.