Being ‘isolated’ in this region is dangerous
Turkey not only faces serious problems with the West but has become increasingly isolated.
In a government program released on June 16, 2016, shortly after he became prime minister, Binali Yıldırım envisioned a “foreign policy that increases its friends and reduces its enemies in the region and the world.”
It was a decent principle, and one that generated optimistic expectations in public opinion. But in the 18 months that have passed since then, the only positive development we have seen is improved Turkey-Russia relations after President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan’s visit to Moscow on Aug. 9. Problems with Europe, the U.S. and Middle Eastern countries have only increased.
So has the whole world turned against us, laying “siege” to Turkey? Or has Turkey simply become “isolated”?
Russia and the YPG
Of course, we must develop our relations with Russia.
Russia cares little about democracy or the rule of law, and therefore Russian media outlets and public institutions do not criticize Turkey. But Moscow also refuses to recognize the outlawed Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) as a terror organization.
If an EU member country stated that the PKK is not a terror organization, you could reply by citing rulings on the issue from the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR).
What would the same action mean to Russia?
Russian General Alyex Kim recently posed with a Syrian Kurdish Peoples’ Protection Units (YPG) representative in front of a Russian flag under a YPG pennant, in the province of Deir ez-Zor in Syria. There, they made a joint statement.
This is not the only incident to occur after Deir ez-Zor was cleared of the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL).
How did Putin accuse Turkey?
We all remember how President Vladimir Putin reacted after Turkey shot down the Russian jet on the border with Syria on Nov. 24, 2015. The incident gave a serious blow to our tourism and export industries, while Putin accused Ankara of “supporting Islamic terror organizations.”
On Sept. 28, 2015, Putin said from a U.N. podium: “Apart from the Syrian President Bashar al-Assad’s government and the Kurdish militias, nobody is fighting ISIL in the true sense.” That was how he initiated his strategy to legitimize the YPG’s role in the fight against ISIL.
Putin also accused the Turkish government of “supporting radicals and conducting oil trade with ISIL” at high-level platforms such as the G-20 summit.
When these accusations appeared in the Western press, the YPG seized on the opportunity to become both the U.S. and Russia’s proxy in the field.
We know that the U.S. subsequently started arming the YPG. Meanwhile, Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov also officially announced a handover of weapons “to the Kurds in Syria” on Nov. 24, 2014.
Their justification was always “the struggle against radical Islamic terror organizations.”
Although Ankara chose to take sides against the al-Assad government, it failed to make the necessary diplomatic and military coordination with the West. And then the downed fighter jet crisis also turned Moscow against us.
The YPG was able to take advantage of this opportunity, while we were busy focusing on internal affairs.
The history lesson
Today the U.S. is arming the YPG while Russia is aiming to open up a diplomatic space for the YPG through the “Syrian National Congress” channel.
This alarming situation highlights two important lessons: Firstly, foreign policy orientation should be calm, rational and entirely separate from domestic affairs. Secondly, diplomacy efforts should not mean shaking off established alliances.
Ankara must present a solid diplomacy strategy to both repair relations with the West and improve relations with Moscow. I hope the recent announcements of Ankara’s “visa exemption talks with the EU” are a sign of this.
Turkey’s economy is also in need of a similar “atmosphere of trust.”
After all, history is filled with lessons that show the dangers of “isolation” in this region.