A rough ride and tough choices for Ankara

A rough ride and tough choices are ahead for the Turkish diplomacy in the remainder of 2021. This appears be the year where the chicken will have to come home to roost. Ankara, painted itself to an unnecessary corner, henceforth now is in need to re-assert its identity. A value-based invitation for this old new fat kid in the block from the West would be timely.

Eventful occasions with the Presidential Palace in Ankara setting in the background lately made the news. First EU Commission President Ursula von der Leyen was left standing at the now infamous “sofagate” incident. Then we witnessed live an animated and definitely ill-prepared press conference by the Turkish and Greek foreign ministers Çavuşoğlu and Dendias respectively. Yet, the real news was perhaps not that exposure but the phenomenon itself exposed by them.

In Erdoğan’s era diplomacy was perceived as a public relations exercice to keep his popularity high while the real deals were closed behind the scenes by an omnipotent president. Diplomacy was going through the motions live on TV, while real progress was achieved by creating “fait-accomplis” on the ground. On the one hand in a most larger sense the East Mediterranean and the EU, on the other the Ukraine Crisis, Russia and the US brought an abrupt end to that era.

Neo-ottomanism of Davutoğlu was already stored back at the wardrobe as an old winter coat. The so-called Blue Homeland defiance was even more short-lived. Ergo, neither hamidianism nor its’ opposite unionism aged well after their second artificial youth. And yes, that was a textbook example of history repeating itself first as a tragedy and the second time as a farce. Strange enough, as the current ruling coalition may as well be labeled as a strange hamidian-unionist one, their foreign policy is now only about their own political survival.       

As repeated time and again by seasoned foreign policy analyst Aydın Sezer, Erdoğan under the guise of assertive foreign policy claimed a playmaker’s role in the region but created such a game that he is now shut out of it. Greece signed its biggest ever defence deal with Israel. Both the Greek and the Italian PM’s visited Tripoli. Libyan PM Dbeyba visited Turkey but more important than that was his prior itinerary before arriving in Ankara. The maritime deal is in the limbo as well as the fate of the Turkish military presence including the Watiya Base.

Research vessels are lingering in Antalya Bay with their gears stuck in park. Exploratory talks re-started after a five years lull with Greece and the heated back and forth between the two ministers in Ankara set the tone. In Geneva, a new round of 5+1 talks will be held on Cyprus under UN auspices. Muslim Brotherhood members in Turkey are either muted in or expelled from as diplomatic talks begin. An opening to Israel is made by way of offering to reassign ambassadors. 

Ukrainian President Zelinsky visited Ankara and Erdoğan held a phone call with his Russian counterpart Putin right before that meeting. The un-happening phone call with the U.S. President Biden status’ still remains unchanged. In the mean-time Chinese FM Wang too paid a visit to Ankara and Erdoğan announced that he would expedite the doomsday “Kanal Istanbul” project’s implementation giving rise to intense rumors that the Chinese will bankroll it.

Turkey’s diplomacy is on the defensive without confessing it. The family jewels to be saved appear to be the military presences in Syria and Iraq and a two-state solution in Cyprus. That last one is contradictory with the EU membership vocation. FM Dendias played just on that asymmetry of Greece being a member and Turkey being a candidate in his sparring with Çavuşoğlu. 

A taste and a test of back to basics then for Ankara: Theses, instead of policies drafted on the go. Status quo as opposed to fervent activism. Doctrines if need be, but no more slogans. Good news is that the U.S. and the EU double team on Erdoğan may lead to real diplomacy. Opportunism may give way to rationalism. Flexibility of Ankara is at an all-time high. 

Bad news is that, in short, a rough ride and tough choices are ahead for the Turkish diplomacy in the remainder of 2021. This appears be the year where the chicken will have to come home to roost. Ankara, painted itself to an unnecessary corner, henceforth now is need to re-assert its’ identity. A value-based invitation for this old new fat kid in the block from the West would be timely, in my humble opinion.  

April 12, 2021 Ursula standing