A showcase congress in Istanbul
The World Energy Congress held in Istanbul was boycotted by some countries, scorned or ignored by some others… Was the absence of Iran and Iraq newsworthy? Indeed. But that was all. Their presence would have meant a lot. In international diplomacy, rebuffing a platform where a country might have the chance to explain its views on an issue can best be described as counterproductive. Is diplomacy not the act of dialogue and seeking resolutions to problems through talking rather than yelling at a distance?
The two countries might have been angry with Turkey’s Operation Euphrates Shield. The central Iraqi government has been particularly dead-set against the probability of Turkey engaging in an international force to liberate Mosul. Indeed, for totally selfish and perhaps egotistical reasons, many Turks would support the Iraqi demand that Turks should stay at home and let the Mosul war be staged by the Americans, Iraqis and whoever else the Baghdad government deems appropriate. Why would Turks die for the liberation of a city that the Iraqi army voluntarily, willingly and without firing a shot surrendered to the Islamic State of Iraq and Levant (ISIL) militia more than two years ago? The war is most definitely not a Turkish war.
Indeed, why has Turkey been staging the Operation Euphrates Shield? Who guarantees that the “mild Islamist militia” that Turkey has been helping to root out ISIL from the border areas will not be even more carnivorous tomorrow? Well, if the problem was not just ISIL but at the same time there was a need to effectively fence off the Turkish border areas with Syria, cut off the connection of the two Kurdish cantons along the Turkish border and kill the aspirations of the Kurds for an independent state, it might become clear why Turkey entered and why its operation is named “Operation Euphrates Shield.”
That is, the operation undertaken on Syrian soil was not just aimed at helping restore some degree of normalcy and stopping Turkey from being flooded once again with tens of thousands of refugees but, more so, to help consolidate Turkey’s own defense and defuse, at the same time, a major threat to its national and territorial integrity. It was for the very same reason that since the first day of the operation, the political extension of the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) in the Turkish parliament has been making every possible noise against it.
While it was boycotted by Iran and Iraq, the energy congress attracted over 10,000 high-level representation from all corners of the world. And it was not just official delegates, as the executives of global energy giants were in Istanbul as well, demonstrating the importance of such a global meeting in Istanbul.
Obviously, from Turkish Cyprus to Venezuela and the brotherly Azerbaijan, all heads of government and state attending the meeting provided it with additional meaning and importance. Yet, the guest of honor was Vladimir Putin of Russia and the immediate yield of the event might be the promise to reduce the price of Russian natural gas to Turkey and the lifting of the remaining hurdles on Turkey’s agricultural exports to Russia.
Did the pilots that shot down a Russian jet fighter intruding in Turkish airspace really belong to the Fethullah Gülen fraternity? Did they act at the time under orders from the gang or from the Turkish government? Whatever, the two countries realized the immense devastation the saga produced in their bilateral relations, and thus on their mutual interests, and pragmatically decided to leave it in the past and look ahead together. How Turkey apologized, who was instrumental in consigning the sad event to the past and the amount of compensation are issues that are irrelevant today as the mutual gain of the two countries in moving ahead is clear enough.
While debates and controversies still continue over the nuclear reactor Russia and Turkey agreed to construct on Turkey’s Mediterranean coast – a scheme many opponents say is nothing more than new capitulations granted by Recep Tayyip Erdoğan to Russia – the Istanbul get-together of the leaders of the two “sovereign democracies” produced a tentative agreement or the expressed will for the construction of another nuclear energy plant. Very likely, opponents will protest the development, but Erdoğan’s “irrespective of whether you approve or disapprove, we shall do it” approach is apparently at work again. Of course what great benefits and interests such huge projects provide will also be the subject of discussion in the months ahead.
The signing of the Turkish Stream contract as well as the signing of a much smaller project to carry electricity to northern Cyprus through a line deep under the Mediterranean demonstrate Turkey’s determination to preserve and advance its status of being a regional energy hub.
Wouldn’t it have been great if Turkish Cypriot leader Mustafa Akıncı had not come to Istanbul alone but had been accompanied as well by his Greek Cypriot counterpart, Nicos Anastasiades? It would have been, but neither Anastasiades nor any other Greek Cypriot leader has been able to walk a road that might imply the equality of the two peoples of Cyprus.