His warning this time came in Manama on Tuesday when he also expressed Ankara’s well-known sensitivities for protection of territorial integrity and called on the Bahraini government to carry out political reforms.
Ankara has actually stepped up diplomatic efforts to contain the Bahrain crisis since around one month after the wave of Arab unrest hit Bahrain nearly two months ago. The Gulf country’s sectarian characteristics make it different from other upheavals in the Middle East, and Ankara has intensified its contacts with authorities in Bahrain, Saudi Arabia and Iran to help contain the crisis that was sparked by Shiite protests against the Sunni-led government and which grew after Saudi Arabia sent troops to quell the upheaval in mid-March.
“The main point is: We have had contacts with all parties in order to prevent more perilous steps from being taken,” a senior Turkish diplomat told Sunday’s Zaman this week, as he outlined Turkey’s overall policy during the start of the latest upheavals in the Middle East and North Africa.
“In Bahrain, there are two different aspects: First, it may lead to a sectarian division and second, it may turn into a regional conflict. In Libya, for example, the case is involved within the country itself. Or, for instance, let’s put it this way; Morocco is not getting involved with Tunisia where the stony path to a more representative government has been paved. Here, in Bahrain, there is a case in which others can get involved,” the diplomat, speaking on the customary condition of anonymity, said, in apparent reference to the regional showdown over Bahrain.
“That’s why there is a need for the utmost care. Our message regarding the Bahrain crisis has had three main elements, as we constantly asked for preservation of stability, for maintenance of territorial integrity and also for political reforms. This one message with three elements is actually multilayered since there is message for everybody here. While giving this message, we also underlined the need for the swift departure of foreign troops from Bahrain,” the diplomat elaborated.
“Sending messages to every party is a requirement of responsibility; any other kind of reaction would just be making a fuss, which would only be useful for escalating the showdown in the region. I wish making a fuss could be helpful, then we would do it, but we know that it is not helpful, especially at a time when the entire region is struggling with various troubles,” he remarked.
A written statement released by the Turkish Foreign Ministry on March 17, as a matter of fact, reflects the multilayered message to which the diplomat referred. “The Kingdom of Bahrain has expressed its readiness to take steps in the direction of economic and political reform, in addition to its call for dialogue,” the ministry said at the time, while expressing regret over the fact that any constructive dialogue between the parties had not yet begun and that the tension had escalated despite all this.
It also said the arrival of Gulf troops was a result of a sovereign decision made by Bahraini authorities, as part of Bahrain’s alliance with the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC), but said this move further increased the sensitivity of the situation in Bahrain. “It is extremely worrying that violence between protesters and security forces increased in the aftermath of this deployment,” the statement said.
Iran, Turkey, labels, epithets
Before departing for Bahrain on Tuesday, Davutoğlu had a telephone conversation with his Iranian counterpart, Ali Akbar Salehi, during which they discussed the latest regional developments, in particular the critical situation in Bahrain. “Salehi and Davutoğlu highlighted the importance of bilateral consultation in order to find a solution to the Bahrain crisis and help the people of this archipelago nation achieve their demands for reforms without foreign interference,” the Tehran Times reported on Wednesday.
The telephone conversation between Davutoğlu and his counterpart Salehi just before the former paid a visit to Manama is actually an important example displaying Ankara being careful not to exclude Iran from regional efforts. “We are going case by case in dealing with the issues in the region, heeding specific conditions of each country. And in the big picture, we constantly say that reforms are a must,” another senior Turkish diplomat told Sunday’s Zaman.
Taking into consideration the sensitivities of public opinion in the Middle East, Turkey is also taking pains to not confuse its role as a member of NATO and its regional role as a regional country. “Because we don’t want to be considered ‘part of the Western bloc,’ when the case is a multilateral one, we are implementing the concept of ‘regional ownership’ on the ground. While doing this, on the other hand, we are launching our own humanitarian assistance initiatives such as the latest ones in Libya and carrying them out as national operations.”
Some commentators are suggesting that Turkey is now increasingly and visibly playing in a region that is under Iran’s strong influence. “Turkey seems to weigh in that with the dramatic decline in the US’s influence and profile, the Middle East is returning to its historical divides and there is a flock waiting to be led despite Iran’s manifest desire to surge. Turkey also factors in that the returns for carrying the burden of leadership in the oil-rich Persian Gulf region promise to be fabulous -- wealth, influence, power and glory. At its most audacious level, Turkey can even aspire to be an intermediary between its Arab ‘wards’ and the West, which has been ignoring it,” M. K. Bhadrakumar said in his article, titled “Neo-Ottomans discover new Middle East” and published in Asia Times on April 2.
“Thus, while on the one hand, Ankara has brazenly intruded into the Iran-Syrian alliance and is dictating to Damascus to come back into the Sunni Arab fold (which the Alawaite regime cannot easily do), on the other hand, Davutoğlu is heading for Manama next week to ‘see the situation on the ground’ and follow up on the consultations he has had with Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates, which have been alleging an Iranian hand behind the Shi’ite uprising in Bahrain. Davutoğlu said, ‘An escalation of tension in Bahrain may create an escalation of tension in the Gulf.’ In sharp contrast with the Iranian stance, Turkey does not object to the Saudi intervention in Bahrain. (Initially it did, but no longer,)” Bhadrakumar argued.
In Ankara, however, the second senior diplomat rules out such arguments. “We don’t consider or label any region as an area where a particular country’s clout is sovereign. We are also not trying to create a sphere of influence, either. We want stability around us. If economic welfare is reached and political reforms are made, then you will have stability. Some circles or analysts might be willing to cast a particular role for Turkey. However, we are not casting that role for us,” the diplomat said.
When asked whether Iran might be feeling uneasy with Turkey’s rising profile in this aforementioned region, the diplomat said: “Maybe, I can’t know. But they should not be feeling so because we are in constant contact with them, so they must have comprehended our intentions. We are also encouraging them to play a more constructive regional role.”