Again, a country surrounded by enemies
In the past decade, one of the greatest achievements of the successive Justice and Development Party (AKP) governments was to save Turkey from its decades-old fears about the outside world. This fear, rooted not just in the Cold War but also the dull mind in Ankara, used to perceive all our neighbors as threats. Even the education system was teaching kids the famous mantra, “Turkey is a country surrounded by seas on three sides, and by enemies on four sides.”
It was none other than Tayyip Erdoğan who declared in 2009, “We are not a country surrounded by enemies anymore.” His foreign minister, Ahmet Davuoğlu, had restructured Turkish foreign policy according to the “zero problems with neighbors” vision, turning old enemies into friends. Turkey’s age-old phobias about “Western imperialism” were also brushed aside by the AKP, which had initiated a promising accession process to the European Union. That is why Turkey’s paranoid nationalists condemned Erdoğan and his team as Western agents, American puppets, and even crypto-Jews serving the Elders of Zion. (Really. A 2007 bestseller piece of nonsense by a hardcore Kemalist-nationalist had depicted not just Erdoğan but his whole party as a cabal of covert Jews.)
Things have changed a lot, however, in the past two years, and even in the past two months. Turkey, again, has become a country surrounded by enemies. In the Middle East, we are very tense with Iran, and at the brink of military conflict with the Syrian regime. Yet Syrian Kurds, which are separate from that regime, are a big source of concern, too. With regards to Israel, PM Benjamin Netanyahu’s apology for the Mavi Marmara has helped a bit, but there is still no working relationship. With Egypt, we refuse to talk to the coup-induced government. We are also at odds with Saudis and the rest of the Gulf for their support for Egypt’s coup. With Russia, Moscow’s support for the Syrian regime is a big problem. At least the Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG) in Iraq remains a friend, for which the AKP must be congratulated, but that is still too little to match with the “zero problems” ideal.
Of course, Ankara cannot be blamed for all this. The Arab Spring had interrupted the dynamics in the region, and Turkey had to react. We could not have remained friendly to the Syrian regime, which has been torturing and slaughtering its own people. In Egypt, we are right to condemn the coup.
With regards to the West, the decay of the EU process is mostly the fault of Europe rather than Ankara, but the latter has not been commendable either. What is much worse though are the conspiracy theories that we have been hearing from the AKP over the past two months about “Western imperialists,” and their alleged plots to weaken and destabilize Turkey. This childish propaganda is exactly the product of the paranoid nationalism that the AKP had been able to confront and defeat in the past decade.
So, what happened? What went wrong? To find an answer, perhaps the AKP officials should recall a magnum opus that they probably know well: The “Muqaddimah” of Ibn Khaldun, the 14th-century philosopher. He described how the conquerors of a system gradually adopt the attitudes of the old masters that they had overthrown. I would hate to see this happen to the AKP as well, but there are worrying signs showing that this is indeed happening and will go on in full swing unless a dramatic turn is taken.