Is Turkey a loner on the thorny path to peace?
PINAR AKPINARThe second Istanbul Conference on Mediation was held again in Istanbul under the auspices of Turkish Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoğlu after a year of conflicts ranging across the world from Syria to Mali, from the Philippines to Sudan and Iraq.
The conference aims to promote mediation in global conflict resolution approaches and provide a platform to bring together representatives engaged in mediation and peacemaking, such as policy makers, academics and NGOs, among others.
Among the panelists were some important figures who have been actively engaged in peace processes in Afghanistan, Somalia, the Philippines, Syria and the Middle East, including Masoom Stanekzai, the head of Afghanistan’s High Peace Council Secretariat; Samih al-Abed, a former minister and member of the Palestinian negotiation team; Teresita Quintos Deles, Philippines Office Secretary of the Presidential Advisor on the Peace Process; and Kani Torun, Turkish Ambassador to Somalia.
The conference focused on five major areas including Afghanistan, the Middle East peace process, the peacebuilding process in Somalia, the Syrian crisis, and the possible ways leading to success in mediation. A number of setbacks as well as recommendations were highlighted during the conference with respect to the resolution of these conflicts.
A significant issue raised by various panelists was the lack of support from the international community and the United Nations toward the resolution of some conflicts, such as the ongoing crisis in Syria.
Mediation has become an important topic of discussion in the U.N. in recent years, owing inter alia to Turkey’s rigorous efforts. The establishment of the Group of Friends of Mediation as an offshoot of the Mediation for Peace initiative started by Turkey and Finland is a manifestation of such endeavors. Last year’s conference reserved an entire panel on the importance of the U.N. in global efforts.
Looking curiously at the U.N.’s record of the previous year, one may be startled by its apathy toward ongoing conflicts. For instance, as the Finnish Foreign Minister Erkki Toumioja stressed, the U.N. Security Council has remained largely silent to the crisis in Syria.
The Obama administration’s hesitation to take the initiative for a resolution of the crisis, Russia’s stance on the side of the al-Assad regime, and China and India’s insistence on a policy of non-intervention, has left Turkey alone in its efforts toward settling the crisis in Syria.
Turkey has not been in a position to neglect the crisis due to its geographic, social, political and psychological proximity to the conflict. Turning a blind eye to the crisis in Syria would only further drag Turkey into the conflict.
Syria has not been the only area of crisis where Turkey has been left alone in its peacemaking efforts. It remained largely alone in Somalia as well. In 2011, Turkish Prime Minister Tayyip Erdoğan was the first non-African leader to visit the country in 20 years since the outbreak of the civil war. Turkey has so far delivered aid worth around $400 million to Somalia, Somaliland and Puntland in a multi-track effort mobilizing NGOs, charities and business spheres as well as the government. Sadly, Erdoğan’s call to the international community to help Somalia has remained largely unheard.
As the number of the members of the Group of Friends of Mediation has increased to 45, it is yet a question whether these countries and regional organizations are ready to share the burden of peace. As Tuomioja underscores, mediation needs the support of the parties to the conflict as well as the political will of the international community.
In the past year, Turkey has mostly been a loner as a mediator in the thorny path to peace. As Davutoğlu notes, having a vision of peace is vital to achieving it. However, it is equally important to share that vision with as many counterparts as possible, especially in peacemaking.
*Pınar Akpınar is vice director of the Center for International Conflict Resolution, Yalova University