We live in a world where countries can no longer pretend they can have a foreign policy totally independent of their domestic policy choices. Governments with contradictory foreign and domestic policies often fail.
Thankfully, Turkey’s foreign and domestic policies have generally been in harmony over the last few years. For example, during the first five years of the accession negotiations with the EU, Turkey’s foreign priority was to join the European Union, while its domestic policy was based on democratization. These priorities allowed Turkey to defend the respect of human rights in its near abroad, and to propose the establishment of free trade zones with its neighbors. The slogan “zero problems with neighbors” was the result of this positive atmosphere.
Then the EU process slowed down and things started to change in the Middle East from Gaza to Yemen and from Tunisia to Syria. Turkey chose to support the opposition movements and took a position against the authoritarian regimes. This was compatible with the Turkish government’s policy of fighting against authoritarian actors within the country and putting an end to the regime of military tutelage.
The fact that the opposition movements in the Middle East often had Sunni Muslim sensitivities was seen positively by Ankara, as supporting these currents was in tune with the government’s “pious” attitude in domestic policy.
Over the last few months, however, we have observed another development: It seems that the government, instead of highlighting universal values such as human rights, democracy or the rule of law or Islamic values, is progressively underlining nationalistic values. This is not an unexpected development as we observe the rise of nationalism in many peoples in the Middle East, the reinforcement of a new kind of nationalism in the right-wing and left-wing movements in Europe and the resuscitation of nationalist rhetoric on the entire Asian continent.
Nevertheless, the rise of nationalist rhetoric, supported by ethnic and religious sensibilities in a heterogeneous country like Turkey, may unfortunately lay the ground for antagonistic policies inside and outside the country.
If the problems of Kurds, Alevis or the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) community are not resolved, or if discrimination against them grows stronger, how can Turkey pretend that it understands the suffering of diverse minority groups in neighboring countries?
It is bizarre that there are still people who think that asking the state if Alevism or any other faith groups constitutes a “religion” is a good idea. It becomes more bizarre when the officials’ response to that question is “No, they are not.” From this perspective, the Alawite regime in Syria is not only seen as an oppressive regime, but it also appears to be a cruel group that persecutes Sunni Muslims.
Similarly, Turkey, a country that has been incapable of resolving its own Kurdish issue, has declared that it will not allow the emergence of a Kurdish independent state (or states) next to its border. In this particular case, one may say that Turkey’s domestic and foreign policies are in harmony, but only in a negative sense.
Kurdish or Turkish nationalism has always been a vote-winning issue in Turkey, as there are plenty of people receptive to nationalistic slogans. However, there are also people in Turkey who are unhappy with the possible results of this nationalist rhetoric. They don’t want to live in an isolated country, for example.
One has to be very careful while launching a new policy or changing the rhetoric since the results can sometimes be unexpected. It is reasonable to harmonize one’s foreign and domestic policies, but it would be better to do this by highlighting positive and universal values.