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August 28, 2012, Tuesday

Forgetting about the EU and beyond

It was recently announced that the US and Turkey have agreed on establishing a “joint mechanism.” I'm an international relations professor but I'm not able to explain what a “joint mechanism” is. According to newspapers it means that the US wants to be informed in real time about everything Turkey does concerning Syria. Guess what Turkey has asked for in return: a guarantee from the US authorities that they will continue helping Turkey in its fight against the Kurdistan Workers' Party (PKK).

The entire world and the international system change but there are three topics in Turkey that never change, and foreign powers are still able to use these in their bargains with Turkey. This is astonishing.

One of these topics is the “Armenian issue.” When there is outside pressure, Turkey automatically adopts a defensive position and believes that immobility is the best option. The world changes, but the Armenian diaspora and Turkey never change. Maybe these two don't change because of each other.

The second issue is Cyprus. One can't say that nothing has changed in Turkey's Cyprus rhetoric, because it is true that the Justice and Development Party (AK Party) has for once adopted a courageous policy on this matter. However, what is the situation today? Everyone knows Turkey will not become an EU member unless the Cyprus issue is resolved. This means Cyprus is still preventing Turkey's rapprochement with Europe as it did for the last half century.

The third “historical” problem Turkey faces is the Kurdish issue. Turkey has a Kurdish problem or, to put it differently, Turkey's Kurds have a number of problems like many other minority groups. Also, their claims are mostly justified. However, apart from that, there is a problem of terrorism. The trouble is that the terrorism problem is making the Kurdish issue impossible to be discussed. Moreover, the terrorism problem is not only affecting Turkey's domestic policies but its foreign relations, too.

Let's summarize: For almost one century, the very same issues, which means the Kurdish, Armenian and Cyprus problems, continue to determine Turkey's fate. Is this a rational situation?

These problems remain unresolved because Turkey keeps looking at these as strategic matters. Many countries have done the same for their own problems in the past. Yet they have managed to take the right decisions when the parameters changed. Turkey, however, has always had a timing problem.

Every government in Turkey was aware of these problems, and they were also aware of what needed to be done to resolve these matters. Nevertheless, they were also aware that any courageous step on the Kurdish, Armenian and Cyprus issues would be criticized by ordinary citizens, resulting in a loss of votes in the next elections. This assumption was not wrong, given the results of past elections.

But electoral behavior can be changed. If decision makers, opinion leaders and intellectuals adopt a humanistic and ethical position on these matters, if the media change their language, public opinion, too, will progressively modify its reaction. This is because we know that people in Turkey, no matter their origin or social class, no longer want conflict or to fight. What is bizarre is that the language of conflict is still vote-winner in this country.

Let's imagine you are in a decision-making position and you see that an intransigent stance on these three matters is still popular in the country, but impossible to defend in today's international system. What would you do? You probably would have two options: adopting nationalistic and conservative rhetoric, which would results in an introverted country in the end, or to do the exact opposite -- adopt a policy in line with international values. Maybe the right question is: Which one of these positions will bring more votes?

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