Turkey focused again on European questions
The planning of the last three diplomatic visits of Turkish Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoğlu shows Ankara’s clear intention to focus more, again, on its problems with the West – Europe in particular – after being soaked with the problems of the Arab neighborhood for the last three years.
Davutoğlu's first stop was Yerevan, his first visit in four years. With gestures like inviting Armenian-origin Turkish journalists onto his plane, he touched on the sensitive issue of the mass killings of the Armenian population in Turkey in 1915 toward the end of the Ottoman Empire, before the regime was changed into the republic in 1923. He did not go so far as to call it genocide, as Armenia expected, but condemned the massive deportations from the rulers of the time as “inhumane.” During his talks with Armenian Foreign Minister Edward Nalbandian, Davutoğlu said Turkey wanted to resume contact to normalize relations.
Due to unconfirmed but reliable reports, Turkey is ready to open the border with Armenia if Armenia withdraws its troops from at least some parts of Azerbaijan that it invaded in 1993 – territories other than Nagorno-Karabakh for a start. Turkey closed its border with Armenia the same year in protest at the invasion and still has no diplomatic representation in Yerevan. Turkey does not want to harm its relations with Azerbaijan, with which it has intensive cooperation, especially in the field of energy, while having better relations with Armenia, which would bring bonus credit in its relations with the United States and the European Union.
Davutoğlu’s second stop was Athens. His agenda in Athens, in his talks with his host, Evengelos Venizelos, and Greek Prime Minister Antonis Samaras Davutoğlu, expressed Turkish expectations from Greece during its EU presidency term for 2014, and relations with the Cyprus problem. Cyprus is slated to be Davutoğlu’s third stop. He told journalists, on his way to Athens, that these few days would be critical for the future of the divided island. If Turks and Greeks on the island can agree on a framework to start reunification talks once again, there are hopes on all sides that this time it could work. The last round of talks ended up in a U.N.-sponsored simultaneous referendum on both sides of the island in 2004 and failed, as the Greek side rejected the suggested plan. And when the EU had accepted Cyprus membership as representing the Turkish part too, from which it was separated in 1974 after Turkey militarily intervened in response to a right-wing Greek coup, it further complicated the relations and caused the gap between Ankara and Brussels to grow.
All those efforts could be seen as Prime Minister Tayyip Erdoğan’s expended effort to save himself from getting involved in more Middle East affairs triggered by the Arab Spring and focus more on recovering its relations with the West. Especially after Erdoğan’s disappointment with the developments in Syria and Egypt, it is not only President Abdullah Gül, but Kemal Kılıçdaroğlu of the main opposition as well, who have called on the government to focus more on EU affairs. It should not be a surprise to see the Erdoğan government taking steps in the coming weeks and months to put relations with Israel back on track, which would definitely help to build more bridges, not only with the West, but with the surrounding region as well.