I remember even writing here that we should clone Davutoğlu. Yet that does not mean that I have been a blindfolded zealot applauder of everything our politicians do in foreign relations.
I have found Professor Davutoğlu’s recent remarks on Büşra Ersanlı very valuable, not just because I agree with him to a large extent on the Ersanlı case, but also because in these remarks he spoke about Turkish domestic politics, justice and human rights. In our transparent global village, where borders are becoming more and more porous, foreign policy is intermingled with domestic politics. The Justice and Development Party (AKP) has used its foreign policy success as leverage in domestic politics, and sometimes it has tried to distract the attention of the electorate by reinvigorating some tensions in foreign relations. Nevertheless, this is a double-edged sword, and, as has been rightly raised by many, in order for Turkey to be a credible player in the international arena, and especially in the Middle East, it has to tackle its domestic democratization and human rights problems.
Turkey has been considered a sort of role model for the Middle East for three main reasons: Its economic success, its ability to permit transformed former Islamists to rule the country and its democratization. The latter is very much linked to both its domestic dynamics (such as the growth of civil society), pro-democracy and human rights Islamic movements (for example the Hizmet movement), the rise of Anatolian cities, diversification of the media, emergence of non-hegemonic or non-Kemalist intellectuals, etc., and also international dynamics, such as the EU process. But with the Arab revolution, Turkey’s domestic performance with regards to democratization and human rights are now under more close scrutiny.
It is not only Qatar or Saudi Arabia that have been sarcastically, but quite rightly, treated and criticized by international commentators, because of the conspicuous gap between their foreign democratization aspirations in the region and their domestic undemocratic structures; it is also Turkey being questioned. The Kurdish question, for instance, is gradually becoming an international issue, and Turkey will be increasingly questioned on its record on the Kurdish problem and human rights in general. Davutoğlu’s ideas on the Kurdish question, domestic human rights problems, freedom of speech issues, judicial reform, accountability of the state and normal civilian-military relations are conspicuous by their absence, even though we and the world so much need to hear them. Professor Davutoğlu, who is a top intellectual and academic, and who was my master’s thesis supervisor, could easily and authoritatively speak on these issues, but has remained largely silent. He will be expected to speak more and more on these issues, not only in abstract terms but more concretely. Thus, his statement on the Ersanlı case is a very good start. I am hopeful that he will come up with constructive and creative deliberations that we may even say have “domestic humanistic depth.” This domestic humanistic depth is actually another dimension of strategic depth, as it will increase the credibility and soft power of Turkey in Middle Eastern politics.
As a politician who is also influential in some academic circles and Turkey’s Higher Education Board (YÖK), which closely controls all universities, he may even encourage scholars and nascent academics to become experts on Middle Eastern countries and Kurdish politics. This is another missing dimension of Turkey’s soft power. For instance, I am not aware of a single expert on Syria. We have, of course, several so-called experts on not only Syria but also all Middle Eastern countries, the Balkans, the Caucasus, pipeline politics and domestic politics. You can easily speculate how deep such expertise on Syria could be. Similarly, we must ask how many experts Turkey has on Iran who speak fluent Persian, or on the subject of Kurdistan who could speak with Massoud Barzani in Sorani Kurdish, or Nouri al-Maliki in Arabic. Unfortunately, we do not have many such non-Kurdish experts on Kurdish politics covering the international diaspora, political economy, international relations, socio-cultural and socio-legal dimensions.
On top of all this, I am chagrined to see that our commentators keep speaking about Turkey being a game making or order setting (“düzen kurucu”) country. This is a commendable ideal, but they write and speak as if Turkey has already become such a power. This boastful rhetoric is not accurate and not helpful. It is, on the contrary, harmful. These exaggerated statements may be helpful for domestic consumption, but not for Turkish foreign policy. Imagine the United Kingdom referring to itself in such a way every day on Turkey and the region.
I believe more elaboration on domestic humanistic depth will also balance these exaggerations, as it will clearly show our weaknesses and deficiencies, and set our homework.