That is international relations, stupid!
President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan’s visit to Germany has been portrayed as a success by supporters of the governing party, whereas dissident voices have regarded it as a failure to convince Merkel. It seems to me it was less successful than the ruling party expected, but more successful than the opposition viewed it. Not only the opposition in Turkey but also the Financial Times (FT) have claimed Merkel gave a “cool reception to Erdoğan’s call for detente” (Sept. 29-30).
In fact, it would be irrational to expect a warmer reception given the extent of tensions between Turkey and Germany. Nevertheless, it was warmer than government critics expected to be. Although the FT focuses more on Merkel’s criticism of Turkey’s democratic failures, I think Merkel sounded more interested in common interests rather than in Turkey’s internal problems.
It is well known Germany’s concern about keeping Syrian immigrants away from Europe is the first reason for Merkel’s interest in improving relations with Turkey. Now, there is also growing concern about the issue of Idlib. The Idlib issue may be regarded as important in the context of immigration as well, since it is thought a military operation will pave way for another flow of immigrants from northern Syria.
Nonetheless, another reason is also that Germany is part of the Western coalition in Syria and the United States-led coalition is more against the Russian role in Syria. Despite the differences and tensions between Germany and the U.S., they share the same view on Syria. So far, Turkey has managed to convince Russia not to continue a military operation and therefore, sided with the Western alliance without breaking up with Russia and Iran.
For the time being, according to a temporary agreement, Turkey and Russia will create a non-military zone along Idlib’s southern border. Yet, it is a very fragile process and that arrangement is far from the final solution in Syria, on one hand. On the other, Turkey expects a Western alliance to compromise its position concerning the Kurdish enclave in the eastern Euphrates in return for its efforts in Idlib.
It is not to say that the governing party’s revived hope to improve Turkey’s relations with Germany and with the Western alliance will definitely prove futile, but prospects are more complex than a smooth revision of past disagreements. Erdoğan’s calls about the “threat” by Northern Syrian forces (YPG) falls on deaf ears, both in the U.S. and in Europe.
The major problem is that it is only Turkey who views the YPG as a threat; otherwise, the U.S. and the Western coalition regard Kurdish forces as useful allies in general in the fight against ISIL. Besides, Russia and Iran still keep silent about Kurds in Syria, although their efforts to reconcile Kurds and the Syrian President Bashar al-Assad have been unable to achieve any results, mostly due to the Kurd’s firm alliance with the U.S. In short, Turkey has no allies when it comes to the Kurdish issue and it does not seem things will change soon in that respect. It seems that all major parties, the U.S., Russia and Iran will stay in Syria for an unforeseeable length of time since a peaceful solution is still far from sight, whereas Turkey is expected to limit its role with the elimination of armed Islamists. It seems that all conflicting parties, the U.S., Russia and Iran agree on that point.
Finally, regardless of the complexity of Syrian politics and the problem of immigrants, Turkey proves to be taken seriously in the international arena for the time being and Erdoğan’s visit to Germany has proven that point. As for the Western concern for human rights, freedoms and the democracy deficit in Turkey, international relations are not working in tune with the expectations of Turkey’s dissenters. It is the bitter truth and another lesson for those who expect democracy to be a gift from external powers. That is international relations, stupid!