No grounds for optimism as we ready for 2017

No grounds for optimism as we ready for 2017

We are leaving what has been one of the worst years for Turkey in recent history. 2016 started off as a trial by fire for the country and this continued throughout the year. First we had the suicide attack on Jan. 12 in Istanbul by the Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant (ISIL), which killed 11 people and injured 15. This was followed by the attack in Ankara on Feb. 17 by a group associated with the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK).

 That attack left that left 29, mostly military personnel, dead and 61 injured. 

Less than a month later Ankara was hit by another attack by the same group which killed 38 dead and left over 120 injured. This was followed by another attack a few days later in Istanbul by ISIL that killed five people and injured 36. 

Such attacks were seen around the country almost on a monthly basis. Among the most barbaric ones were the attacks on Atatürk Airport in Istanbul on June 28 by ISIL that killed 45 and injured 236, and on a wedding in Gaziantep by the same group on Aug. 20 that killed 57 and injured over 90 people.

As the year came to a close, we had the attacks outside the football stadium in Istanbul, and the attack in Kayseri against off-duty special forces personnel. Combined, these left 61 dead and about 100 injured.

The attack in Gaziantep in August prompted Turkey to enter Syria militarily to confront ISIL, and the People’s Protection Units (YPG), which Ankara says is an offshoot of the PKK. That operation, launched under the name of Euphrates Shield, has resulted in retaliatory terrorist attacks against Turkish forces.

Unfortunately, it is hard to say we have seen the end of all this and have to brace for more attacks as long as the debacle in Syria and Iraq continues, and there is no apparent desire by Ankara to launch a political process to defuse the PKK problem.

Internationally, Turkey’s ties with the West will remain on a collision course in 2017. It is not clear what effect Donald Trump’s assuming the U.S. presidency will have on ties between Ankara and Washington. Ankara has signaled that it has positive expectations, but the issues that divide the sides may be harder to overcome than some in Turkey assume.

Ties with Europe will likely remain strained over issues to do with democracy and human rights in Turkey and PKK activities in Europe. They may become worse if the migrant deal between Ankara and the EU collapses, as the sides accuse each other of failing to honor promises made. The question of visa-free travel for Turks in the Schengen region will be one of the main issues to contend with.

Meanwhile, the question of whether Ankara’s shift toward Moscow represents a broader change of international allegiances for Turkey will dominate much of the debate in 2017.

In domestic politics, the failed coup attempt in July was the biggest development of the year and its ramifications are expected to continue in 2017. The massive operation unleashed by the government against those who allegedly backed the coup attempt has turned into a purge of President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan’s opponents, and this will also keep political tensions high in Turkey. 

These tensions are also expected to increase due to the attempt by the ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) to make Erdoğan an executive president. This issue is already resulting in serious acrimony in parliament. 

The biggest issue for the government and the public in 2017, however, could turn out to be the economy if the government cannot stop the current negative trend in this regard. The combination of terrorism, fighting over a presidential system, the debacles in Iraq and Syria, deteriorating ties with the West, and a failing economy could leave Turkey facing a year that is even worse than 2016. 

In short, there seem to be little grounds for optimism regarding 2017 which will more or less see a continuation of the trends set in 2016.