From no problems with neighbors to no friends

From no problems with neighbors to no friends

The year 2011 was more than different, definitely for Turkey. Perhaps no one would think decades of absolute governments with leaders who appeared strong as the legendary steel of Japanese swords would fall apart within days or weeks.

What happened, and indeed what is still continuing to happen in the Arab neighborhood, is a multifaceted challenge to Turkey, as the developments are at the same time shaping the future of this country.

As rightly put by President Abdullah Gül at a recent conference, perhaps Turkey has never been faced with so many challenges at the same time, which are not only important, but also giving priority to Turks as much as other peoples of this geography. The “No problems with neighbors” foreign policy strategy of Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoğlu unfortunately evolved in the past year into a “No friends” reality.

2011 was a year when -- contrary to the post expectation of improved relations with Armenia -- a resolution to the Cyprus problem, furthering intimate relations with Damascus of brother Bashar al-Assad, enhancing peaceful influence in Libya and beyond, and such lofty rhetoric of previous years fell victim to “proactive” and “pro-American” foreign policy objectives and ambitions Turkey would become a regional and perhaps global game setter.

The year started with Turkey firmly allied to Colonel Moammar Gadhafi and yelling “What’s the place of NATO in Libya?” Half way through the year Turkey was proudly participating in the French and the British led American-orchestrated Libyan operation of NATO. As if that was not enough, to win back the sympathy of yesterday’s rebels who were inclined to have “brotherly relations” with Paris and London rather than Ankara, $ 300 million in cash was carried in bags to Benghazi to buy back their loyalty.

Syrian relations also showed a similar U-turn. After a six-hour long meeting with al-Assad, Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoğlu concluded the Alevite leader of predominantly Sunni Syria was not sincere in his pledges of stopping use of indiscriminate force, or indeed brutality, towards civilians. Thus, yesterday’s “brother Assad” became “dictator Assad” and Ankara, which has traditionally opposed sanctions on its neighbors because of spillover impacts on Turkish border areas, pioneered sanctions on Damascus.

Armenian relations could not be kept in the fridge like the previous year when the so-called protocols of friendly relations remained in the Foreign Ministry’s dusty archives of “caduceus documents.”
Towards the end of the year, with some encouragement from a little man at the Elyse Palace in Paris, a handful of French politicians initiated a process of criminalizing opposition to Armenian charges of genocide; relations of Ankara not only with Armenia but France as well, seriously derailed
Furthermore, it does not require fortune telling capabilities to estimate the probable impacts of the derailment on overall Turkey-European Union relations, particularly in view of the upcoming Greek Cypriot term presidency in the second half of the New Year.

We shall continue on Wednesday…