Six major problems ahead of Turkey in 2016
2015 has been a problematic year for Turkey both in domestic and international politics. Two general elections, the changing mood of the Kurdish problem and the spillover of Syrian war in the form of jihadi terrorism were major problems inside Turkey. The Syrian war with the worsening situation with the downing of the Russian plane, the changing nature of the fight in cooperation with the U.S. against the Islamic State of Iraq and Levant (ISIL) and the possibility of reactivating relations with the European Union over the flux of Syrian refugees were major foreign policy and security issues.
In 2016, there are six major problems ahead of Turkey as of today; three domestically and three in foreign policy.
• KURDISH PROBLEM: The government considers that to extend operations against the outlawed Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK), which has resumed its armed campaign with demands of autonomy along its Iraq and Syria borders, could further alienate the people living in those regions. On the other hand, the PKK is not likely to give up the campaign because of the same reason and wants to bring security forces face to face with civilians in towns, rather than militants in the mountains. If the government cannot find an innovative solution to break the stalemate, the problem is likely to continue in 2016 as well.
• PRESIDENCY AND CONSTITUTION: Following the 2015 election win, President Tayyip Erdoğan is happy to see that Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoğlu has given priority to a shift to a presidential system in Turkey in his Justice and Development Party (AK Parti) work for a new constitution. After Erdoğan has signaled that reconciliation with the social democratic Republican People’s Party (CHP) could speed up the process, the stance of the CHP leader Kemal Kılıçdaroğlu has softened regarding a system change. If such reconciliation takes place, that could decrease the political polarization in the country and be good for economy as well.
• ECONOMY: Besides curbed trade routes to its south and east due to serious problems in Syria and Iraq and also with Iran and Egypt, Turkey is likely to suffer from its trade with Russia, especially in tourism and construction sectors, because of the Syria situation. The government could try to close the gap, especially in construction and finance sectors by attracting Gulf capital but that might not be enough. Turkey needs to get more foreign investment but there are security and court independence problems affecting that. A democratic constitution and closer relations with the EU could help the situation.
• SYRIA AND RUSSIA: Syria’s civil war is likely to continue despite peace efforts. As a part of the U.S.-led coalition against ISIL, Turkey’s moves in the Syria theater would be limited because of the Russian presence there, after the downing of the plane, unless President Erdoğan manages to find a way out with Russian President Vladimir Putin. That limit makes Ankara nervous especially regarding the advances of the Democratic Union Party (PYD), the Syrian wing of the PKK, mainly because of its own Kurdish problem. The pressure on the Turkish government could lessen with the closure of the remaining 98 km part of the border against speculations of ISIL infiltration, but that could mean an end to Turkey’s Syria policy for the last four years.
• THE U.S. AND THE ANTI-ISIL FIGHT: Turkey has become a major target for ISIL as it has become more involved in the anti-ISIL fight. Because of the Russian constraints in Syria, Turkey may not take an active part in the strikes, but that is not the only way to fight against ISIL. Nor are the relations between Turkey and the U.S. limited to the anti-ISIL fight or Syria. The U.S. backs Turkey against Russian accusations on Turkey about ISIL, but makes its point behind the doors. The conflict with Iran over Syria and Iraq seems to continue in 2016.
• EU, CYPRUS, ISRAEL: The first half of 2016 is likely to show whether there will be progress in Turkey’s relations, which is closely linked to the Cyprus talks under the auspices of the United Nations. Keeping in mind the possibility of a Russian obstruction there, a deal between Turkish and Greek Cypriots could be a major breakthrough in the region with its influence on peace and stability in the East Mediterranean and the use of the area’s natural sources like natural gas and water. That is valid for Turkey’s relations with Israel as well, if diplomatic contact produces a political settlement, but in terms of that, no time frame can be given for now.