When in August 2013, in his capacity as chief foreign policy advisor to then prime minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, today’s Presidential Spokesman İbrahim Kalın tweeted: “It is wrong to claim ‘Turkey has been left alone in the Middle East.’ But if this was the criticism leveled, then I should say this is precious isolation.”
He probably was not joking. Turkey had indeed landed in a growing isolation. But its value was a source of heated discussion.
This is not of course the first time during the ruling Justice and Development Party’s (AKP) time in office that Turkey has found itself at odds with Europe, the United States and Russia, while also being disliked by most of its neighbors at the same time.
Defending the borders, territory, and rights and liberties of citizens, topped by the right to life, is a fundamental duty of any state or government. If there is a deficiency of state rule or risk of civil war arising from challenges in neighboring territories - with governance vacuums in neighboring territories turning countries into terrorist dens – then any government is obliged to defend its territory and people from such threats.
Americans fighting Islamist terrorists in the same area, collaborating with a lesser terrorist Kurdish group in that struggle, should not and must not stop Turkey from undertaking whatever action is necessary to diffuse the threat. Why would Turkey let northern Syria and the Sinjar area in northern Iraq turn into new separatist terrorist command centers, like the one already in northern Iraq’s Kandil mountain range, which Turkey has long been trying to get rid of? Would the Americans feel hurt on behalf of their lesser terrorist “allies” in the fight against Islamist terrorists? Apparently so. Russia has also expressed unease with the strike. Informing the Russians and the Americans, as well as the anti-ISIS coordination center in Qatar, two hours before the Turkish operation was apparently not enough. Still, despite American and Russian criticism Turkey continued the aerial bombardment for a second day.
Another contentious subject has been the April 16 referendum on constitutional amendments providing President Erdoğan with super presidential powers aggravated fears in some segments of Turkish society, as well as across the world, that Turkey was moving toward dictatorship. The Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe (PACE) has put Turkey back on a watch list over “serious concerns” about deteriorations democracy and human rights. This is the first time Turkey has faced such a humiliating status at the PACE since it was removed from that list in 2004, when Turkey first started European Union accession talks. After the latest decision Ankara, of course, immediately declared that it would “reconsider its relations” with the PACE. But what will it do? Exit the PACE? That would add just another dimension to Turkey’s “precious isolation.”
The EU, which said in 2004 that Turkey met the Copenhagen criteria for membership and could start accession talks, has also started to change its own position. European conservatives have long been against Turkey’s membership prospects, but the anti-Turkey lobby has also acquired some new members. While the Turkish government once categorically rejected formulas of “privileged partnership” or “second-grade” membership of the EU, it has now started to consider a post-Brexit U.K.-style membership of the common market, demanding a review of its customs union with the EU instead of membership.
Ultimately, a Europe becoming more conservative does not want an Islamic Turkey that insists on moving away from European values, installing authoritarian rule, reintroducing the death penalty, etc. Kati Piri, a Dutch politician and the European Parliament’s rapporteur on Turkey, summed up this stance recently as follows: “The Turkish government has proved it has no willingness to move closer to the EU, so that is why I am calling for a suspension in talks.”
Turkey’s Kurdish problem and perennial freedom of expression and media freedom woes have got no better in recent years. Indeed, they have gotten worse. The number of journalists in prison has now reached 157. A massive purge of alleged members of the Fethullah Gülen movement, accused of staging the failed July 15 coup attempt, is also ongoing. Just this week over 1,000 police officers were detained.
It seems Turkey is determined to further increase the value of its “precious isolation.”