Food for thought

Food for thought

What role does Turkey think of for itself? Does it foresee a “leading country in the region” role? Does it want to play an even greater role in its area? Does Turkey want a role as a member of the European family? Or does it want “precious isolation”? Difficult to answer, is it not?

Turkey, with its growing economy at a time when the European Union is passing through or just coming out of economic dire straits, might well lose its appetite for the EU. Many recent polls indicate, however, that while the official Turkey might not be as interested in EU membership as it was a couple of years ago, the unhappy social democrats, liberals and even conservatives who are scared at the prospect of authoritarianism at home appreciate secular democratic governance and want Turkey firmly anchored in the West. That means that not only support for the EU, but also appreciation of NATO is on the increase among Turks.

Still, does Turkey want to be part of a coalition of countries, or want to play the game alone in its troubled region? If it decides to be part of a “coalition of the willing” or such a proactive alliance, will it be possible for Ankara to abandon its own sensitivities and thus security priorities and lend support to non-governmental groupings in a manner that boosts their fighting power? Even though Ankara may no longer want to consider certain groups as separatist terrorists or accomplices to terrorist acts, is there not a possibility of Ankara-trained and armed “mild terrorists” attacking Ankara and its interests in the end? If the cost of being part of the “European” or “Western” family requires walking such an adventurist road, will Turkey walk it, and where will it lead?

Turkey’s attempt to mend fences with its ethnic Kurdish population by reaching some sort of an agreement with the separatist Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) gang is appreciated in the West as a major step in the right direction. To some degree, those steps have helped change Turkey’s perception. However, despite all efforts to use the attack on Kobane by the Islamic State of Iraq and Levant (ISIL) as an excuse, did not the same Kurdish gang and its civilian political extension rehearse an uprising in protests recently, devastating public property in 34 cities and murdering 42 people?

Right, Turkey has decided to open its border crossing and allow some 200 northern Iraqi Peshmerga to cross into Syria with their weaponry and help the defense of Kobane. So will the problem be over with the Peshmerga helping out in the defense of Kobane? Is Kobane the only town under the ISIL threat? What about other Syrian or Iraqi Kurdish, Arab or Turkmen settlements under ISIL attack, or already occupied by the gang? Will Turkey allow some paramilitary elements from other countries cross into its neighbors and help settlements besieged by ISIL?

ISIL is, of course, the greatest defamation challenge that Islam faced in recent times. Such a ruthless gang - involved in all sorts of heinous crimes without sparing toddlers, women or the elderly - is of course a far bigger evil than the PKK, which through the “opening” process has become relatively domesticated. Still, a beast is a beast and none is better than the other. Can the Turkish government accept officious Western advice and help one beast to fight the other beast? If opening the border gate and allowing 200 Peshmerga to help the Kobane defense is a domestic political risk as well as a security threat, what if such “exceptions” become routine?

Aerial bombardments might help contain ISIL for a while, but at the end of the day a land operation will become a must to eradicate the beast. Who will do it? Turkey alone? Together with the Americans and the West? Will they ever have boots on the ground? What about Bashar al-Assad being given a place in plans for the future of the region and to help eradicate ISIL for the good of everyone? Will Turkey’s tall man agree to remove al-Assad from the target board?

Sometimes, food for thought becomes far more delicious than food on the plate, even if it is prepared by an eminent chef. A dinner hosted by Yalçın Zaim, the president of the Board of Trustees of Atılım University and Professor Abdurrahim Özgenoğlu, the rector in honor of Theodora Bakoyannis, the former foreign minister of Greece, led to one such night, when we brain stormed such questions.