Issues more important than France face Turkey

Issues more important than France face Turkey

The Erdoğan government is fuming with anger at France after the French Parliament’s lower house adopted a bill aiming to severely penalize those who deny an Armenian genocide took place. Whatever direction economic ties between the two countries may take over the coming months, one thing is certain. 

Political and military ties have now been suspended indefinitely by Turkey. There is also room for matters to get even worse, depending on whether the Armenian genocide bill also passes the French Senate, or not. 

At any rate, looked at from today’s perspective, it appears more realistic not to expect an improvement in ties anytime soon. The short of it is this issue has become a matter of national honor for Turks. It seems, therefore, both countries will have ample time to cultivate feelings of enmity in the coming months and years.

Developments in the Middle East, however, are far more significant for Ankara today than continuing to fume at France. Iraq has started to display indications of dissolution and increased sectarian strife between Sunni’s and Shiites. Put another way, the sides did not wait long to start fighting after American troops left that country.

The situation between Baghdad and Erbil are not the best either, given disputes over sharing the country’s oil resources. Matters between the sides have become even worse now Kurdish authorities are refusing to hand Vice Present Tareq Al Hashimi (a Sunni) over to Baghdad, after he fled to the region following attempts by the government of Nouri Al Maliki (a Shiite) to arrest him for sedition.

A three way division of Iraq among Sunni’s, Shiites and Kurds has always been a nightmare scenario for Turkey, mostly because of the fear of an independent Kurdistan on its borders. Now there is also increased concern over the very real prospect of a spill-over effect from the growing sectarian strife in that country, and in the region. 

Vice President Hashimi and other Sunni leaders have already started looking to Turkey for help in this context, indicating Ankara could get caught in the middle of this sectarian conflict. All of this is going to require very careful management by Turkey, especially at a time when the situation in Syria continues to get worse.

The double suicide bombing in Damascus last week, which killed 40 and wounded over 100 people, was only the latest harbinger of even worse things to come in for Syria. Reports, possibly exaggerated, by members of the opposition indicate up to 10 thousand people may have died and 40 thousand people may have disappeared already there. 

Whatever the true figure may be, it is clear President Assad feels that with support from countries like Russia, Iran and now the predominantly Shiite government of Iraq, he can hang on and not cave in. 

Given the growing interactivity along sectarian lines developing between Iran, Iraq and Syria, and the Gulf region, there will be much for the Erdoğan government to worry about in 2012 other than France. 

Paris is also closely concerned with these developments, especially in Syria, so it defies logic why it would alienate Turkey so deeply, and so shortly after Foreign Minister Alain Juppe was in Ankara taking about the importance of cooperation in the face of developments in the Middle East. 

But that is for the French to figure out now, especially when Turkey has more important issues to be concerned with.