Turkey’s nuisance value peaks, facing the West’s impotence

Turkey’s nuisance value peaks, facing the West’s impotence

“Temel” is a fictional character from the Black Sea who is often used in Turkish jokes. 

One of these jokes goes like this: “Temel enters a highway the wrong way. The traffic police make an announcement on the radio to warn drivers. Temel, who is driving in the wrong direction, is also listening to the radio when he hears, ‘Attention! There is a car going in the wrong direction.’ Temel reacts, saying to himself, ‘Just one car? All of them are going in the wrong direction!’”

This joke exactly reflects Turkey’s current foreign policy, especially on Syria. 

A Turkish ambassador once argued that if it is not kept anchored to the European Union, Turkey will become a rogue state, warning Europeans of Turkey’s “nuisance value.” Voiced at the end of the 1990s, even before the Justice and Development Party (AKP) existed, it was perceived at the time as an exaggeration. 

Obviously, Turkey has not ended up being a rogue state. But it is interesting to see that while yesterday’s rogue state, Iran, is improving its ties with the West, (despite its support for the Bashar al-Assad regime), Turkey, (which is supposed to be on the West’s side), has ended up defying all of its allies on the Syrian issue.

Its leader has even threatened to put refugees on buses and send them to Europe.

Turkey is not a rogue state, but we see how a weakened relationship with the West has brought it to the point of voicing a probable land operation in Syria, in alliance with Saudi Arabia. This is something that would have been unthinkable just a few years ago. 

Turkey’s Western allies seem to be standing by as they watch Turkey’s nuisance value peak. To adapt the situation to the joke I mentioned earlier, instead of drivers stopping their cars to tell Temel that he is on the wrong side and he needs to be going in the same direction as the others, all the drivers are giving way to Temel. Only a few dare to honk their horn, which goes unheard by Temel. 

Continuing with this analogy, some may argue that perhaps Temel and the other drivers do not want to go to the same place. This may be so, but what should be essential for Turkey’s allies is where Temel is taking the car, not where his car is going. Since they cannot change the driver, they need to speak to Temel in a language he understands. That language should neither be totally complacent nor should it be totally bullying. It should be something in between.

The recent EU-Turkey deal on refugees, which reactivated dialogue between Ankara and Brussels, is of key importance. Both Ankara and European capitals must try to it work. 

The EU does not have to accept every condition put forward by Turkey, such as “give me the money and don’t care about the rest.” But it should carry its share of the burden. This cannot be limited to simply paying a check; it also involves accepting more refugees.

European leaders need to pull their act together if they don’t want to see Turkey’s nuisance value destroy what it took years to build. Temel’s wild drive has already led to the suspension of the Schengen agreement on passport-free travel, a major element of the European political architecture. It may even lead to its complete collapse.