Turkey to UN: ‘I can slam you and love you at the same time’

Turkey to UN: ‘I can slam you and love you at the same time’

For the first time in the 70-year history of the United Nations, it has convened the World Humanitarian Summit in Istanbul, which took place on May 23 and 24. As the host country, Turkey has played an important role in the organization of the summit. 

Currently providing a safe haven for around 3 million refugees, Turkey has been feeling frustrated that its complaints about a lack of fair burden-sharing to alleviate the human suffering, especially among Syrians, are falling on deaf ears. It therefore had a vested interest in hosting the summit, hoping it would raise awareness and mobilize support against humanitarian disasters. 

However, the spotlight was elsewhere: On the new prime minister, elected during the Justice and Development Party (AKP) congress on May 22, and on the details of the new cabinet announced on May 24.

“This is multitasking,” said one Turkish diplomat when I complained that Ankara’s efforts to put the focus on humanitarian issues were being overshadowed by Ankara itself. 

To me, this is a “Turkish classic,” inherited from the “janissary’s walk” of the Ottoman times: “Two steps forward, one step back.” 

For those not used to dealing with Turkey, it is quite frustrating to get used to these contradictions. 

Look at Turkey’s relations with the U.N. At a time when most countries are trying to cut costs, Turkey has become one of the key partners of the U.N., hosting many of its regional hubs for instance. This is all part of Ankara’s aspiration to become a global player, but at the same time the leader of the same Turkey constantly bashes the U.N. and its key players. 

The language used by Turkey (and read this as President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan) is very problematic, Professor Kemal Kirişci told me in a recent interview. Turkey’s seasoned diplomats have traditionally had the skills to negotiate and find a breakthrough, even in difficult circumstances where the parties have conflicting interests, Kirişci said. “But Turkey today uses a confrontationist language and shuts all doors to finding a common denominator. That is a huge challenge,” he added.

Kirişci has just published a book with co-author Elizabeth Ferris, presenting recommendations on the Syrian refugee crisis. They suggest that humanitarian agencies like the UNHCR and the OCHA should work closely with U.N. developmental agencies like the World Bank and the IMF on the issue. The book partly overlaps with the U.N. secretary general’s recently published report, which will set the agenda for the U.N.’s global summit on the mass movements of refugees and migrants, which is due to take place in September.

According to Kirişci, Turkey should play an important role in efforts to address the global refugee crisis.

“Although its high-standing soft power of two or three years ago has disappeared, Turkey still enjoys some soft power from the way in which it has been trying to manage Syrian refugees. There is still recognition, against all odds, that Turkey … is doing a good job providing 2.8 million Syrians with protection,” he said.

Turkey could use that soft power to mobilize international support, because the international community feels embarrassed when comparing its own efforts with those of Turkey, according to Kirişci. 

“But Ankara is not doing that. It is using language that offends people, even those who want to work with Turkey, who appreciate the efforts of Turkish NGOs and local administrators. How can you cooperate when the other side uses offensive language and plays the blame game? I personally know Turkish officials who have been working very hard on the refugee issue. The Turkish government should let these peoples’ goodwill be reflected in a constructive way,” said Kirişci.

As President Erdoğan keeps saying, “the U.N. is bigger than five.” Turkey is also bigger than Erdoğan, if only he did not steal the role from everybody!