Turkish PM makes demands, but is anyone listening?

Turkish PM makes demands, but is anyone listening?

While he was in London on Jan. 18 for talks with his British counterpart David Cameron, Turkish Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoğlu also fielded questions from the British press on the Syrian Crisis.

His answers came at a time when everyone is waiting to see if the all-party talks in Geneva aimed at ending this crisis can be held next week. 

Two things he said stood out. 

The first was his remark that “No country has more to say on these peace talks than Turkey because 2.5 million Syrians are in Turkey.” The second was his remark that the Kurdish Democratic Union Party (PYD) cannot take part in these talks because it is acting together with the Syrian regime.

Seeing the forceful manner in which he expressed these two “demands,” one might believe that Turkey is in a positon to have influence, even a strong influence, over these talks.

Turkey is, of course, a major country that should be playing a major role in regional issues. However, the serial mistakes and miscalculations with regard to the Syrian crisis by the ruling Justice and Development Party’s (AKP) has left it with hardly any influence at all. 

Davutoğlu is also the key architect of Ankara’s failed Syrian policy, which has been predicated solely on seeing the demise of Bashar al-Assad and his regime but has failed to factor in realities unfolding on the ground.

Meanwhile, Turkey has also angered or alienated most major international players involved in the crisis. Firstly, Russia and Iran will clearly try to ensure that Turkey has a minimal role to play in the Syrian talks. Both countries continue to insist on the al-Assad regime taking part in the talks, regardless of what Ankara may think. 

But Turkey is not on the same page with regard to Syria with its own “allies” and “partners” either. Take its ties with the U.S., which will be highlighted again with the visit of Vice President Joe Biden to Turkey later this week. Washington is today concentrating its efforts on defeating the Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) and has relegated its demand that al-Assad should go to the back burner. 

It also wants Turkey to do more against ISIL by better controlling its borders and keeping better tabs on ISIL and other jihadists. So there continues to be clashing priorities.

Washington also disagrees with Turkey about the PYD, having successfully allied itself with this group and its military wing the People’s Protection Units (YPG), against ISIL. It therefore refuses to list the PYD and the YPG as terrorist groups, despite their links to the outlawed Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK).

A further complication for Davutoğlu is that Russia, which has been looking at Turkey with less than friendly intentions after the Turkish air force downed a Russian fighter jet in November, is also now courting the PYD, some say specifically to annoy Ankara. So the PYD now has the support of the two superpowers involved in Syria, and it is not clear what leverage Turkey has to change this. 

Ultimately it seems the only leverage the Davutoğlu government may have in Syria is the ability to be a “spoiler” rather than a “maker.” Already some comments in the British press are saying that Davutoğlu’s demand that the PYD should not be allowed to attend the Syrian peace talks could be one of the factors scuttling these talks. 

But even that may be reading too much into Ankara’s ability to influence the talks. The bottom line is that unless Davutoğlu establishes a more realistic approach to the Syrian crisis, which also factors in Ankara’s real capabilities - not its self-assumed ones - his remarks will continue to ring hollow, no matter how good they may sound to AKP supporters.