Serious criticisms have been leveled against Turkish foreign policy following the recent developments in Syria. Due to the possibility of an independent Kurdish state being created in the south of Turkey, critics are now asking the government: “Was this your zero-problems policy? Was this your strategic depth [a reference to Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoğlu’s book]?”
But we have to be fair. Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan clarified the issue during a recent televised press conference. Previously, in early 2011, he had met with Syrian President Bashar al-Assad for three hours. During their meeting, the prime minister told Assad that the Arab Spring would affect Syria and that bloody conflicts could be prevented by reforms, including the holding of free elections. However, the circles of power of the Baath regime tied Assad’s hands and the regime started to kill its own people. Is Turkish foreign policy responsible for this?
Did Turkey make a mistake? I think the mistake Turkey made was to take a lead role during the humanitarian tragedy in Syria. The issue actually concerned the UN, the US, Russia, the EU and Iran; however, Turkey acted as if it were the only relevant actor in the Syrian problem. In foreign policy, if you suggest bold action but do not follow through, you look weak and your power will be tested.
The recent Kurdish upheaval and movement in Syria should tell us more about what kind of Kurdish problem we have in Turkey. The Kurdish issue is not one of Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) terrorism alone. And this issue has not and cannot be resolved by relying on security policies alone. While we of course need to take all possible measures to prevent terrorism, violence and attacks, even this has not been done for years. Can we fight terrorism effectively by relying on unprotected military outposts, drones modernized and equipped by Israel and the shaky support of the US? Most importantly, civilian authority has been set aside and the armed forces are the only actor responsible for combating terrorism. Illegal practices, including human smuggling and drug smuggling as well as murders that remain unsolved and actions by deep-state organization JİTEM, have exacerbated the issue. Now, the civilian authority is making a serious effort to take power back from the military, but this is not easy. The Uludere incident [concerning the accidental killing of 34 civilians on Turkish-Iraqi border by Turkish military jets in December) says a lot about this matter.
Maybe the borders in the Middle East are being redrawn. The prime minister has said he will not let this happen, but those who are eager to change the borders may have already taken action. Regional actors, backed by big powers, may have fooled the prime minister. For example, in reference to a remark by Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG) Prime Minister Nechirvan Idris Barzani, Erdoğan said at a televised press conference: “The statement that ‘we [the KRG] have trained them [Syrian Kurdish commanders] in northern Iraq and now, after this training, we are sending them back there (to Syria)’ is a pretty ugly statement. This shows that events are moving to a completely different stage.” Being romantic means you are influenced by emotion, dreams and excitement, and if you are overconfident, you may do a lot of crazy things. It is fine to be romantic in art or literature, but it is not proper to be romantic in foreign policy. The members of this nation are emotional. We still think we are on a battleground where we won a landslide victory when we hear the sound of Ottoman military band tunes.
Turkey has to resolve the Kurdish issue by itself. There are many external actors that want this problem to remain unresolved, but this is something we have to do. We have a golden opportunity now. A new constitution is being written. We have to create solid ground in the constitution for the consolidation and empowerment of local administrations based on equality in citizenship and the enjoyment of freedom of expression.
There will be no discussion whatsoever about the partition of Turkey once Turkey’s east and Southeast become attractive centers in which to live. On the contrary, would not all Kurds want to come back if such was the case?
Without allowing ourselves to be trapped by the vicious cycle of pessimism, we have to build a bright future.