From ‘no problems’ to ‘no friends’ – II –
The “no problem with neighbors” excitement indeed carried Turkey to some new and promising dimensions. Wherever Turkey approached, problems were vanishing, or at least becoming more solvable. Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoğlu was becoming the new “star of diplomacy.”
It was no joke at all. Turkey could convene joint Cabinet meetings with Syria, a country we were at the threshold of war with just yesterday. Even though the Americans were twisting arms behind the scenes, Turkey was able to sign a protocol with Armenia for better relations. “We shall be one step ahead of the Greeks in the search for peace,” Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan said in replacing the “No settlement is a settlement as well” philosophy to “Committed to a Cyprus settlement” approach on Cyprus.
The “Turkey is always right. When Turkey is wrong, the first rule applies” era was becoming history and for the first time in recent history, Turks were pondering whether there were other versions of the stories that they know by heart thanks to official history.
Then, Cyprus peace hopes were dashed with Greek Cypriot intransigence in 2004 but despite all efforts, a pro-settlement understanding could not be nourished among Greek Cypriots. The Greek Cypriot obsession not to share sovereignty and governance with Turkish Cypriots on the basis of equal partners continues to mar all settlement efforts. Now, once again, rather than a “United Cyprus or united Cyprus, we are committed to settlement” approach, some prominent Turkish diplomats have been reported to be voicing “time to remarry or get a divorce.” That’s obvious, anyhow. Why do Turks voice it now?
It was not just in Cyprus, of course, the climate changed fast; it also did so in the entire region. A frustrated young man lighting himself on fire in protest of his government indeed placed the entire Middle East on fire. Arab streets turned violent all of a sudden and yesterday’s absolute rulers became prey for the masses demanding more rights, more freedoms and an absolutely better distribution of wealth.
Thus, even though Davutoğlu updated his strategy and started defending that “no problems with neighbors policy has not changed at all. It has evolved into no problem with peoples of neighboring countries.” In reality Turkey started seeking a new foreign policy perspective and the “no problems” approach came to a standstill, or was compelled to come to an abrupt halt.
Thus, the Middle East-centered or region-dominated approach started to fade out and being replaced in policy making with a neo-classical rapprochement with the American strategies. The odd part of this new approach, unfortunately, was the continued war of words between Ankara and Tel Aviv, but the political Islamist government in Ankara was eager to maintain its Israel-bashing habit. Besides, the Israeli government was doing its best as well to avoid an improvement in ties with Turkey.
An Ankara pursuing pro-West objectives but remaining at constant tension with Israel is definitely an anomaly that cannot be maintained for long. Thus, the “matchmaker” efforts of some friends across the Atlantic should perhaps be taken very seriously.
More on Friday…