Turkey’s relations with the EU and the US must improve
The civil war that broke out in Syria in early 2011 has further complicated things. A number of unfortunate developments during the course of the war have not only dragged Turkey into it at an unnecessary level, but have also worsened its relations with both its allies in the West and a number of countries in the Middle East.
For example, in mid-2012, the ruling Justice and Development Party (AK Parti) pursued a political solution to the problem by engaging in indirect dialogue with outlawed Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) leader Abdullah Öcalan via the National Intelligence Organization (MİT) and the Kurdish problem focused Peoples’ Democratic Party (HDP). This collapsed in mid-2015, due to a number of Syria-related factors. Those factors included the emergence of the Islamic State of Iraq and Levant (ISIL) in early 2013, its capture of Raqqa in Syria and Mosul in Iraq in mid-2014 and the Siege of Kobani in the fall of 2014. It was during the Kobani siege when former United States President Barack Obama opted for a coalition with the Syrian branch of the PKK, the Democratic Union Party (PYD) and its militia the People’s Protection Units (YPG), despite an offer of assistance from its NATO ally Turkey.
That choice, which has also been upheld by U.S. President Donald Trump, put a wedge between their relations, linking the U.S., its number one Western ally, to Turkey’s stance in the Middle East and its peace at home.
Then came a second wedge in 2016, when a group of soldiers attempted a coup in Turkey on July 15, in which all fingers in the country pointed to Fethullah Gülen, the U.S.-based Islamist preacher and his illegal network within the state. Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan had first asked Obama and then Trump numerous times to extradite Gülen or to take legal action against him, neither of which have happened so far. Additional problems between the two countries have been the ongoing trial in the U.S. that have made Turkey a target, the arrest of an American pastor and two employees of the U.S. mission to Turkey and Erdoğan’s plans to purchase the S-400 missile system from Russia for air defense.
The state of emergency declared by the government following the coup attempt restricted certain rights and freedoms, which also caused a regression of Turkey’s relations with the EU to which Turkey has been a long time candidate. The increased flow of Syrian migrants to Europe through Turkey has already caused tension in relations. But an immigration-visa agreement that could help the EU’s migration problem and better Turkey’s relations with the EU was inked only a month before the coup attempt, after which relations deteroriated once again, with arrests of journalists and politicians in Turkey. Turkey has also criticized the EU for not standing with the government against the coup attempt. The situation deteriorated during the constitutional referendum campaign in April 2017, when Erdoğan and the AK Parti’s demands to address Turks in Europe were not welcomed by a number of EU states.
In the meantime, Turkey has deepened its cooperation with Russia and Iran in Syria, making deals to counter the positioning of the YPG – a U.S. protected militia that has adopted the alias of Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) – along its border.
There are two new developments regarding Turkey’s foreign policy.
The first is a set of talks scheduled between Turkey and the U.S.. Trump’s national security adviser H.R. McMaster and U.S. State Secretary Rex Tillerson are expected to travel to Turkey, one after the other, to talk to their counterparts İbrahim Kalın, who is the chief foreign policy strategist and Erdoğan’s security adviser, and Foreign Minister Mevlüt Çavuşoğlu. Turkey had consulted with Russia and Iran regarding the anti-terror fight in Syria before making those crucial contacts.
The second development is the government’s attempt to amend Turkey’s much criticized anti-terror law, as recently heralded by Prime Minister Binali Yıldırım. Turkey’s EU Affairs Minister Ömer Çelik is hopeful about reanimating talks in order to revive the 2016 agreement with Brussels.
Of course it is not possible to separate Turkey’s relations with the West or with the Middle East along bold lines in today’s world. A possible breakthrough regarding Turkey’s position in Syria could result in a surprise bettering of relations in Turkey for both the U.S. and the EU, which would benefit all the concerned parties.