A sigh of relief or a sign of trouble?
The U.S. Department of State’s announcement on Dec. 28 that the U.S. would resume full visa services in Turkey, effectively marking the end of the U.S.-Turkey visa crisis, was a huge sigh of relief for many Turkish and American travelers and expats, myself included. As an American expat living in Istanbul for the past four years, the suspension of all visa services in October drove me to the edge of insanity.
My work permit was set to expire on October 31st, potentially leaving me with no way to legally stay in Turkey.
Luckily, my anxieties—from wondering where I would live if my visa was not renewed to when I would be able to invite my friends and family to come visit me— turned out to be all imagined as my work permit was renewed amid the crisis and now my family and friends can easily travel to Turkey.
However, after months of pessimistic thinking, I am still wondering if I have preemptively breathed a sigh of relief following last Thursday’s announcement.
In terms of visa regulations, the resolution process is undoubtedly clear in terms of restoring the pre-Oct. 8 U.S.-Turkish visa policy. What remains unclear is the reason for the two sides coming to terms now, of all times, as well as what the two sides have agreed on in terms of a political settlement. Ultimately, such ambiguity leads one to ask what exactly does the crisis mean for bilateral relations. Is the resolution to the visa crisis a step toward the normalization of bilateral relations, or is this just a temporary bandage pasted over larger problems? It seems now as if the latter is the case.
The first sign that more significant problems loom between the U.S. and Turkey came after the Turkish government claimed that the U.S. statement on the issue had “misinformed the Turkish and American public by claiming that the U.S. had received assurances from Turkey.”
Despite the promises of American Vice President Mike Pence and Turkish Prime Minister Binali Yıldırım’s November meeting—in which the two pledged not only to open a new chapter in U.S.-Turkey relations but also to engage in constructive dialogue, according to the White House readout—this statement is indicative of disagreement and miscommunication, not open and honest conversation. It seems as if the two sides are still unable to effectively communicate, at least in coordinating their public statements.
The second sign came with the subsequent news coverage of the visa resolution, which took up minimal space in the Turkish press and made few headlines in the U.S. The resolution was quickly overshadowed by Turkey’s signature on a deal to acquire the S-400 air-to-surface missile system from Moscow, a deal that has been long in the making and has caused a stir between Turkey and the U.S., including the threat of sanctions.
Since the resolution of the crisis, analysts from all sides of the Turkish media have made connections between the deteriorating U.S.-Turkish relationship and Turkey’s purchase of the S-400 system; however, the true repercussions of this deal will remain to be seen.
Although the resolution to the visa crisis surely marks a positive development for the tens of thousands of Turks in the U.S. and Americans in Turkey, the verdict to reinstate regular visa services is far from a resolution to bilateral problems. For this to happen, the two sides would need to come to the negotiation table with further policy options and the willingness to compromise. Unfortunately, while confronted with greater global challenges, a lasting solution is unlikely at the top of either party’s list of New Year resolutions for 2018.