How many foreign ministers does Turkey have?
Turkey’s chief diplomat is surely Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoğlu, who has been running this post since May 1, 2009, following seven years of service to the Justice and Development Party (AKP) government as the chief foreign policy advisor.
Foreign policy has always been one of the most important agendas of the AKP government over the last 10 years and was conducted carefully by former foreign ministers Abdullah Gül and Ali Babacan.
The advantage that Gül and Babacan enjoyed while doing their job was a view shared by other Cabinet members and senior party officials that foreign policy was a special area requiring knowledge of diplomacy, which should not just be stepped into.
The main characteristic and driving force of Turkish foreign policy between 2002 and 2009 was pragmatism and diplomacy built on dialogue with all parties and countries. Davutoğlu, in his capacity as an advisor, was an active part of that diplomacy. The most important achievements of this period were forcing the Greek Cypriots to the first ever referendum in Cyprus through the difficult Annan Plan process; launching accession talks with the EU in 2005 following bargaining; and mediating between various states and non-state actors in the Middle East, which put Turkey in a privileged position with its ability to have access to all of these groups.
In today’s scene, however, my humble observation points out that we have multiple foreign ministers from the Cabinet and the AKP, whose statements and actions affect Turkey’s interests and image abroad. I will name some of them.
Hakan Fidan, the chief of the National Intelligence Organization (MİT) is one of them. Fidan, a close friend of the foreign minister and a right arm of the prime minister, has been serving like a shadow foreign minister for years. He has secretly carried the special messages of the prime minister as his special envoy to the leaders of Syria, Lebanon, Egypt and others in recent years. He was the one along with deputy AKP leader Ömer Çelik (the current culture minister) who tried to contribute to a deal between Hamas and Israel, following the latter’s operation in Gaza last year.
Another significant name is obviously Hüseyin Çelik, deputy leader of the AKP and known as one of the most important “second-men” of the party. Çelik, as the party spokesman, is frequently talking about foreign issues and sometimes puts the foreign minister in a difficult position.
In the Cabinet, there are others. First and foremost is Deputy Prime Minister Bülent Arınç, who is also the government’s spokesman and head of the Turkish team negotiating the terms of a potential Israeli compensation over the Mavi Marmara killings. Arınç’s strong-worded rhetoric sometimes goes too far for diplomacy. Important to note without creating any link between them, it’s worth recalling that the kidnapping of two Turkish pilots in Lebanon came only a few months after Arınç described Hezbollah as “the Party of Evil” responsible for the Banyas Massacre in Syria in late May.
Deputy Prime Minister Bekir Bozdağ, who is now heading the important task of forming a “Turkish Diaspora,” could also be included in this group. He is one of the most public faces of the AKP, appearing on news stations more than any other government official, and commenting widely on foreign policy issues.
EU Minister Egemen Bağış has a special position among other figures. Due to very nature of his job in the government, his interventions into foreign policy issues are only natural but sometimes can create problems, as occurred when he bluntly slammed Germany’s Chancellor Angela Merkel, bringing about a crisis with the EU on the opening of a negotiation chapter in late June. Bağış’s sharp criticisms of the
EU and its leaders are not regarded as contributory for the advancement of the accession process.
One other figure is Deputy Prime Minister Beşir Atalay, whose area of responsibility covers relations with Turkish Cyprus. Atalay was criticized for being part of a campaign to allegedly weaken the position of current Turkish Cypriot President Derviş Eroğlu. However, his plans have apparently failed, as early elections held in July did not yield the result the AKP government was expecting.
Energy Minister Taner Yıldız is there, too, as a good majority of his work requires the establishment of relations with foreign governments. His northern Iraq portfolio, however, is seen as a major problem between Ankara and Baghdad, which put the minister himself in the middle of a diplomatic crisis when Baghdad refused permission for his plane to land in Arbil in early 2012.
İbrahim Kalın, the coiner of the much-discussed “precious loneliness” term when describing the state of Turkish foreign policy, is also no doubt one of the most important members of this group.
Along with these well-known and veteran figures, there are a few freshmen emerging as potential future foreign ministers. Erdoğan’s advisors, Yalçın Akdoğan and Yiğit Bulut, are in this category, both being columnists for daily Star. In a recent interview Akdoğan urged that it would be “madness and suicide” for Bashar al-Assad to attack Turkey, a NATO ally.
Bulut, whose influence over Erdoğan is apparently increasing - or vice versa - is a believer of the idea that the 21st century will be Turkey’s century, but this is only being prevented by Western forces. He urges that a more powerful foreign policy be implemented to eliminate the “games” of this anti-Turkey lobby.
Although the list can be extended with some other names, looking into the roots of this mushrooming is more important. The reason for this is the change in the characteristic of Turkish foreign policy from pragmatism to idealism, mainly based on the ideological roots of the government.
Three important parameters of this period were the appointment of Davutoğlu as foreign minister, the worsening of relations with Israel after the tragic Mavi Marmara incident, and the coming of the Arab Spring.
The Arab Spring has seriously affected Turkish foreign policy’s move from pragmatism to idealism, accompanied by ambitions of creating a “New Middle East.” With the collapse of these ambitions and of this sort of foreign policy, what remains is just a bunch of foreign ministers who are talking about almost the same things every day. Of course, in a country where freedom of expression is under constitutional guarantee, these ministers are free to talk about anything they are concerned about, but when it comes to foreign policy, coordination seems to be urgent to prevent the further damaging of the country’s interests and image in the world.