Game changer Turkey
What was the cost of Turkey realizing its acute wrong Syria policy? I could start counting the costs by placing right at the top Ahmet Davutoğlu, Turkey’s former prime minister. Davutoğlu’s continued premiership would have made it impossible for Turkey to modify its Sunni-obsessed perspective by crippling its historical, cultural and of course political clout.
The neo-Ottomanist expansionist aims of Turkey, of course could not be totally credited to Davutoğlu, but he was the architect of the collapsed project which must be considered as one of the fundamental reasons for today’s drastic situation. Naturally, the neo-Ottomanist hallucinations could not be solely blamed for the tragedy that has been continuing for so many years in Syria. Millions of people had to abandon their homes, displaced or compelled to seek refuge outside their homeland, while hundreds of thousands of people lost their lives as the country was almost completely destroyed. For what? Just for the sake of a regime change in Damascus? Or, was bringing a Sunni caliphate regime to the Middle East the aim and Syria was compelled to pay a portion of the price for such a mammoth hallucination?
The ousting of Davutoğlu and the arrival of Binalı Yılıdırm as the Chief Vizier of Turkey’s absolute ruler, President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, was not of course solely a requirement for rerouting the Syria policy, but more so to consolidate Erdoğan’s grip on the government, ruling party and the country with trustworthy ally Yıldırım. After all, a prime minister who started believing he had power would not be welcomed by Erdoğan.
With the help of the political crutch, which proved its effectivity by rushing to service whenever his master was in difficulty, Yılıdırım successfully geared the country toward a super presidential system that opposition parties and critics condemn as legitimizing the de facto authoritarian one-man regime.
The changing Syria policy in Turkey, as well as the drastic repercussions of the downing of a Russian fighter jet in the waning period of Davutoğlu, required the pragmatic Erdoğan administration to walk the difficult road of apology to mend ties with Moscow. Under a normal democratic governance it might have been difficult to overcome such serious crises in relations and move from the state of constantly bashing each other, imposing embargoes and restrictions and such Cold War tactics, to an era of strategic partnership within months. But it happened between Erdoğan and Russian President Vladimir Putin. Turkey apologized for downing the Russian jet. Within less than a month, there was a Turkish-Russian summit meeting, embargoes were starting to be removed, instead of constant bashing at each other, an era of “understanding” and “appreciation” began. The murder of Russian Ambassador Andrey Karlov in Ankara by a policeman serving for the riot police squad could have poisoned the relations under normal circumstances but the two countries were quick in condemning the murder as a blatant attack aimed at harming their bilateral relations and cooperation in Syria.
Turkey parting away from the U.S.-led West in the Syria game of chess and gradually, but firmly, aligning with Russia and Iran might reflect, in some degree, Turkey’s growing discomfort in its relations with the European Union as well as the U.S. Yet, two separate incidents demonstrate that Turkey’s “game changer” status might indeed be very helpful in Syria but might produce some serious problems with the West, particularly the U.S. The claimed accord of ceasefire, if implemented, would itself be a game changer as it would provide a negotiated resolution to the Syria quagmire. But already, reports are floating that Bashar al-Assad might seriously consider to not seek reelection and might accept to be replaced with a handpicked Baathist personality. Would that happen? If ceasefire holds, probably, in Astana, the Turkey-Russia sponsored talks would get underway.
Would it be possible to dream, only a few months ago, that Turkey would be playing as host to Russian senior officers coming to Ankara with Syrian rebel leaders and discuss a cease-fire? Or, would it be possible to believe that in a cease-fire, Turkey would agree to exclude the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL, also known as ISIS or Daesh, with the Arabic acronym of the gang’s name) as well as al-Qaeda’s Jabhat al-Sham, formerly known as Jabhat al-Nusra? Was it not Turkey, along with the Saudis and the Qataris accused of supporting Jabhat al-Sham, even though for a very long time the group was condemned both by the West and Russia as a terrorist group?
If the Dec. 20 Moscow decision signed by Turkish, Russian and Iranian foreign ministers that a Syria resolution would ensure Syria’s sovereignty, unity, territorial integrity, independence and pluralism and it would be achieved through dialogue, excluding the use of force, Turkey would ought to act more on Sunni Islamist groups, particularly the Jabhat al-Sham, who are dominant in Syria’s Idlib.
Russia and Turkey, accusing the U.S, separately, of providing arms and ammunition to both ISIL and Syrian Kurdish groups – considered as terrorists not different at all from the outlawed Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) by Ankara – might just demonstrate frustration with Barrack Obama’s policies in the region. Would the new U.S. administration in few weeks’ time change course? Most probably no. Thus, besides other potential problem areas, the game-changer role of Turkey will most likely have some serious impacts on the course of Turkish-U.S. relations in forthcoming period.