Syrian crisis dominates politics in 2015
ISTANBUL1) EU, Turkey joined by Syrian migrant crisis
European Union leaders became desperate to slow the flow of humanity to the shores of Europe over the past year, as Turkey promised to retain more refugees on its soil in return for greater benefits from the 28-member bloc.
The migration crisis paved the way for Ankara to achieve renewed momentum on EU accession talks, as it opened Chapter 17 on economic and monetary policy in December 2015 after two years of standstill in negotiations.
Many EU countries, particularly Germany, which have traditionally expressed their disapproval of Turkey joining the union, have had to change their posture because of the growing refugee crisis.
As the union grappled for solutions to the arrival of around 1 million migrants in Europe in 2015, most of them Syrian refugees from Turkey, the bloc agreed with Turkey’s government that Ankara would take steps to cut the flow of migrants to Europe in exchange for EU cash and help with its bid to join the bloc.
The EU pledged to pay an initial 3 billion euros toward the cost of hosting Syrian refugees in Turkey.
The deal elicited hope among Turkey’s citizens that they would soon be able to travel visa-free to Schengen countries.
The potential for visa-free travel is dependent on Turkey both reducing all irregular migration and implementing an EU-Turkey readmission accord that means anyone thought unlikely to be given asylum would be returned to Turkey.
European Commission will present a second progress report on Turkey’s implementation of a visa liberalization roadmap by early March 2016, so that the EU-Turkey readmission agreement can go into effect by June 2016.
The commission would then be able to present its third progress report in autumn 2016 with a view to the lifting of visa requirements for Turkish citizens in the Schengen zone by October 2016.
The bloc also provided a commitment to Ankara to launch necessary procedures on five accession chapters, namely, Chapter 15: Energy; Chapter 23: Judiciary and fundamental rights; Chapter 24: Justice, freedom and security; Chapter 26: Education and culture; and Chapter 31: Foreign security and defense policy. Greek Cyprus has placed a veto on the opening of the chapters amid the absence of a deal on the Mediterranean island.
2) Russian jet downed, Turkey joins coalition
Among many others which had a direct influence on Turkey’s foreign policy in 2015, two dates, July 24 and Nov. 24, can be counted as the most important for their consequences in the Middle East and the impact they had on relations between the key actors involved in the unrest in Syria.
On July 24, Turkey and the United States announced the former actively joining the international fight against the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) by opening its key İncirlik military base to coalition members, in a development described as a game-changer by many in the world.
On Nov. 24, Turkish warplanes on patrol downed a Russian Su-24 jet due to a violation of its air space despite numerous warnings, prompting an unprecedented crisis between Ankara and Moscow that also had its reflections on the developments in Syria.
Both these developments were of course by-products of ongoing Syrian unrest, which continued to be the top agenda item of Turkey’s foreign policy in 2015, as it had been since 2011. The top two dimensions of the Syrian issue were the fight against ISIL and international efforts to launch a political process to resolve the problem.
The Turkish-American deal had an important impact in the field and an alarming effect on Russia, as they saw it could further weaken Syrian President Bashar al-Assad. In a bid to keep Assad in power and therefore its military presence in the country, Moscow started to deploy Sept. 30 sophisticated weapons as well as warplanes to Syria under the pretext of the anti-ISIL fight, though its main target was the FSA, particularly Turkmens living very close to the Turkish border.
The last crisis of the year took place between Turkey and Iraq, as the former wanted to reinforce its training troops at Bashiqa military camp near Mosul without the consent of the latter’s central government. Iraq protested Turkey and urged it to withdraw its troops within 48 hours in the first week of December. Russia and Iran stood together with the Iraqi government and the U.S. asked Turkey to engage in dialogue with the Iraqi central government over troop deployment. Turkey later withdrew some of its troops.
3) Turkey hosts G-20 Summit in Antalya
For the first time in its history, Turkey has hosted the G-20 Summit in the country’s Mediterranean resort town of Antalya Nov. 15-16, 2015, marking an end to its one-year leadership of the world’s most developed 20 countries.
The leaders of the Group of 20 countries, who gathered in Antalya with a rare international political and security agenda, have put the struggle against terrorism at the top of their priorities in the aftermath of the Nov. 13 Paris attack and the Oct. 10 Ankara Massacre.
“The fight against terrorism is a major priority for all of our countries and we reiterate our resolve to work together to prevent and suppress terrorist acts through increased international solidarity and cooperation,” read a joint statement released on the last day of the summit attended by world leaders including U.S. President Barack Obama, Russian President Vladimir Putin, Chinese President Xi Jinping and German Chancellor Angela Merkel, among others.
World leaders representing 85 percent of the global economy visited Antalya during the summit. Around 13,000 people attended the events, which employed around 40,000 staff, according to the official website of the summit. For the G-20 leaders, a total of 20 hotels in were assigned.
4) ISIL threat spread overseas in 2015
As one of the main sources of violence in Syria and Iraq in recent years, the threat from the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) in 2015 gradually spread overseas, with Paris, California, Ankara and Beirut among the targets of the jihadist group.
The deadliest of the attacks staged by ISIL was in Paris on Nov. 13, when jihadists attacked multiple spots, restaurants, cafes, concert venues and a sports stadium, killing a total of 130 people. This unprecedented attack in central Paris on a busy Friday night pushed more states to give bigger support to the U.S.-led coalition against ISIL, while Russia vowed to support efforts to combat the jihadist group.
Only one day before the Paris attacks, two ISIL suicide bombs in Lebanese capital Beirut killed 43 people, which the United Nations condemned as “despicable.”
On Dec. 4, a married and heavily armed couple, who were announced by ISIL to be its followers, targeted a year-end party taking place at a social services building in San Bernardino, California and killed 14 people.
In Turkey, up to 140 people were killed in 2015 three suicide bomb attacks staged by ISIL in Ankara, Suruç and Diyarbakır.
5) Amid peace talks, hopes increase for Cyprus deal
Even though no resolution has been yet met, hopes have risen for a peaceful solution to the more than 40-year-old Cyprus issue in 2015.
While ending the year, the two leaders of the Turkish and Cyprus communities on the divided island have for the first time aired on TV together to wish the islanders and the world a happy new year, both of them delivering their peace and solution messages bilingually.
The efforts to find a solution on the Mediterranean island have ramped up after Mustafa Akıncı was elected as president of Northern Cyprus in April.
Since May, Akıncı and Greek Cypriot leader Nicos Anastasiades have met multiple times in the divided capital of Nicosia under the guidance of the United Nations and discussed controversial topics that have left the political situation on the island unresolved for four decades.
After their last meeting of the year, the Cypriot leaders said they aimed at a lasting solution.
“Keeping in mind that a just and lasting settlement in Cyprus will be an example for the broader region, the leaders express their sincere hope that 2016 will bring peace, security and prosperity in Cyprus and beyond,” they said in a joint statement on Dec. 20.
6) 195 states agree on climate change pact
At the tail end of the hottest year on record and after four years of fraught U.N. talks often pitting the interests of rich nations against poor and imperiled island states against rising economic powerhouses, 195 countries at the U.N. COP 21 Climate Change Conference in Paris agreed on a landmark agreement on Dec. 12, setting the course for a historic transformation of the world’s fossil fuel-driven economy in a bid to arrest global warming.
Hailed as the first truly global climate deal, committing both rich and poor nations to reining in rising emissions blamed for warming the planet, it sets out a sweeping, long-term goal of eliminating net manmade greenhouse gas output this century.
The final agreement sets an objective of restraining the rise in temperatures to “well below” 2 degrees Celsius (3.6 degrees Fahrenheit) above pre-industrial levels, a mark scientists fear could be a tipping point for the climate. Until now the line was drawn only at 2 degrees.
It also creates a system to encourage nations to step up voluntary domestic efforts to curb emissions, and provides billions more dollars to help poor nations cope with the transition to a greener economy powered by renewable energy.