Five major areas of difficulty ahead of Turkey in 2017

Five major areas of difficulty ahead of Turkey in 2017

We are leaving a very difficult year behind. Turkey and the Turkish people have witnessed worst ever coup attempt on July 15 in a direct attack on its fragile democracy by a group of pro-Gülen military personnel and other bureaucrats. 

We have lost hundreds of innocent civilians and security personnel as a result of scores of suicide attacks by either from the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) or the outlawed Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK). First time in Turkey’s history, an ambassador of a foreign country, Russian envoy to Turkey, Andrey Karlov was shot dead by a gunman in the last days of the year. We have also witnessed a tragic face of humanity as many of developed countries have shut their doors to refugees fleeing violence. 

This year did also mark as one of the worst years for the Turkish democracy, human rights and rule of law. Turkey’s relationship with the European Union and the United States are passing through a very difficult period while Turkish-Russian reconciliation has been yielding results in Syria. A general understanding -not only in Turkey but in the entire world- is that 2016 was not a good year for humanity. 

It’s our sincere wish that 2017 will be a better year for entire humanity, for the region, for Turkey and the Turkish people. However, current picture does not illustrate a rosy picture. At first glance, one can cite five major difficulties awaiting Turkey in the New Year. 

The first one is internal security. Terrorist campaign launched by the PKK and the ISIL in mid-2015 has gained impetus in 2016 and there is no sign that it will be reversed. With Turkey’s intensified military operations on these two groups, it’s likely that they will carry out more attacks aiming to kill more. 

The assassination of Ambassador Karlov in the downtown Ankara causes more concerns that such political murders can continue in 2017. As the initial results of the investigation highlights the link of the gunman with the Fethullahist Terror Organization (FETÖ), it can be argued that the concentration on efforts to fight Gülenists will continue in the same way. 

Second is the external security. Turkey and Russia could broker a ceasefire agreement between Syrian regime and the opposition with hopes that it will lead to political negotiations. Turkey’s fight against the ISIL in Syria will continue as planned but a decision to create a new front against the Democratic Union Party (PYD) and its armed wing, the People’s Protection Units (YPG) would introduce new and big security challenges to Turkey.

 Another security risk can be born in the case Turkey will push ISIL off al-Bab and continue farther south at the expense of getting closer to the Syrian regime army. The developments in Iraq and PKK’s efforts to spread its influence might also create a new front for Turkey. 

Third is the relationship with major Western countries and institutions, namely EU and NATO. In the second half of 2016, Turkey’s ties with EU countries and the U.S. have severely deteriorated because too late and too weak support given to the Turkish democracy that nearly escaped July 15 coup attempt. Turkey and EU failed to accomplish visa liberalization talks and upcoming elections in major European countries will put Ankara-Brussels relations in jeopardy. The election the Donald Trump as the next American president has been regarded as positive by many in Turkish government but his heavily anti-Muslim views and statements can create unexpected tension between the two countries. Having said that Trump’s administration’s tendency to extradite Fethullah Gülen to Turkey would produce a positive climate in ties. 

Fourth difficulty would be heightened political tension in the country because of constitutional amendments that would change the system into an executive-presidency. The Parliament is expected to vote on the package late January so that it could be put to a public vote in late March or April. Backed by the Nationalist Movement Party (MHP), the Justice and Development Party (AKP) is pretty sure it can have it approved both at Parliament and in the referendum. The Republican People’s Party (CHP) and the People’s Democratic Party (HDP) have expressed their opposition to the shift and expectation is that there will be a fierce referendum campaign in entire country. The fact that the government intends to expand the state of emergency another three months can further complicate the situation. 

Fifth challenge awaits Turkey is worsening economy. Political uncertainty can make Turkish economy more fragile with a sharp decrease in the foreign direct investment. The devaluation of the Turkish lira would likely continue especially after Trump will sit in on Jan 20. Worsening economic conditions would also spark public criticism and reaction on governmental policies in the 2017. 

Seemingly, 2017 will also be a very interesting year with scores of challenges ahead for Turkey.