Turkey is Serbia and Serbia is Turkey

Turkey is Serbia and Serbia is Turkey

Turkey is Serbia and Serbia is Turkey. When you say it out loud, it doesn’t click, does it?

But this seems to pretty much summarize what Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoğlu said when he made his telephone call to his Serbian counterpart in a damage control effort over Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan’s “Kosovo is Turkey and Turkey is Kosovo,” statement, made in Prizren. “I told my dear friend that when we come to Belgrade, we also call it our second home,” said Davutoğlu.

I have been to Kosovo a few times. The first time was when Kosovo declared independence and I reported that Kosovo’s new flags that popped up suddenly in the streets minutes after the declaration of independence had been made in Turkey and secretly flown to Kosovo by Turks. Actually; saying “Kosovo is Turkey and Turkey is Kosovo,” is less problematic; when you consider that there is a sizable Turkish community who are actually struggling against assimilation by Muslim Albanians, rather than the Orthodox Serbs.

Davutoğlu claimed that prime minister’s remarks were taken out of the context of his speech. Yet, it is some parts of the speech, in which Erdoğan talked about how Turkey had been supportive of Kosovo’s independence and how it would continue its support, actually complemented the famous sentence that probably angered Belgrade even more.

It was a foreign policy success for Turkey to have had cooperative relations with Belgrade while at the same time continuing its unconditional support for Kosovo’s independence. Now Belgrade has been added to the list of capitals at odds with Turkey. And while Davutoğlu can blame outside factors like the Arab Spring for the failure of his zero problems with neighbors policy (and he would be partly right in doing so), in this case there is no outside factor. This is a man-made, or Erdoğan-made, crisis. And at some stage, as rightly put by a Balkan observer, Turkey will have to make an assessment about which one will be more beneficial for both Turkey and Kosovo: To be 110 percent behind Kosovo, or to leave a 25 percent margin for relations with Serbia?

Sometimes you need someone you respect; not necessarily someone you like, to help you make these assessments. A candid discussion with an ally can serve as a mirror and can serve to function as a reality check on your policies.

Robust and frank discussions between Ankara and Washington are one of the primary recommendations of a report recently published by the Washington based Bipartizan Policy Center.

Penned by a group of Turkey experts who are headed by two former U.S. envoys to Ankara, Morton Abromowitz and Eric Edelman, the report in my view touches the crux of the matter in bilateral ties by criticizing Washington for preferring to praise relations rather than having a candid dialogue about the problematic aspects of these relations.

Of course, the authors of the report have the Middle East in mind when they think of Turkish–U.S. cooperation. Yet the positive outcomes of a more open dialogue need not be limited to the Middle East.

The authors were absolutely right in pinpointing that U.S. silence is often taken by Ankara as tacit approval of its policies.

Finally, the report not only suggests that Washington should discuss serious differences openly with Turkey, but also should not refrain from criticism of its democratic deficit.

No one is asking Washington to interfere in Turkey’s domestic affairs. But non-interference should not mean turning a blind eye to democratic backtracking in Turkey.