Thus it happened, as it always used to during the (not-so-good) “old Turkey” days, as well in “new” Turkey: the frustration of taking a long wide turn in foreign policy or of putting a hard brake on brinkmanship, or outright bellicose behavior, in tandem with a hardened stance towards the democratic opposition inside Turkey. In keeping up the low-burning flame of the perception of a historic animosity towards Greece and Armenia, or towards Greeks and Armenians in short, a signature characteristic of the old Turkey was always alive; so be it for the new Turkey. One can also add thinly-veiled antisemitism under the guise of criticism of Israel’s inhuman treatment of the Palestinians to the mix as an Islamist novelty.
Calling it a “hardened stance” against the opposition, though, would be quite lame and timid as characterizations go. For the singled-out target is again the Kurdish political movement, as the strength of which is conceived to be the sole existential threat to the republic. But hey, which republic? Because it appears that the Islamists in power since 2002 are working on turning back the clock from the secular republic to an imagined caliphate. And the state of law? Don’t make me laugh: we are experimenting with Fraenkel’s dual state now, albeit anachronistically. So let alone its state, the law of the land itself is suspended, having created a deafening vacuum for a long while now.
Yesterday, it was the “Blue Homeland,” today, and suddenly at that, as per President Erdoğan’s statement: “Armenia is the biggest threat to regional security.” In the background, there is a rush to avert the imminent ECHR ruling for Selahattin Demirtaş, which will probably have wider repercussions for other current breaches of civic rights. Simultaneously, there is talk of Turkey’s own Constitutional Court’s potential to reconsider Osman Kavala’s case. Read: “being instructed to.” Ergo, that it would have been “timely” to revisit the Kurds and the so-called “Kobane events” case that dates back to October 6 to 8, 2014 created the excuse this time around.
It’s a “give and take,” a “pas-de-deux,” a Venetian “bal masqué” and oh, it’s so convenient for the West. For the EU, it’s keeping Turkey in the forever waiting room and offering childish but not-so-innocent sweeteners like membership in the newly-created Gas Forum, rekindling the Sarkozy brainchild EUROMED or updating the existing Customs Union. For the “(Israel’s) security first”-minded U.S., it’s keeping Turkey, Islamist-nationalist or not, as a firm NATO southern flank ally and a CT tool involved in the containment and rolling back of Iran.
In short, in all and every each of these scenarii, Turkey is seen as nothing more than a bulwark: against the flow of refugees, against Salafi terrorism, against Iran, against the armed conflicts in the Mideast, without much present or future added value of its own to the West. For Erdoğan, this is a more-than-welcome approach as for him too, as even the remaining European anchors like the EC or NATO are considered to be shackles to his one-man rule.
For Erdoğan, Europe is an anathema. Acceding to the right of free movement of people within the EU and an updated Customs Union are more than enough. In a way, it’s Putin versus the EU upside-down: no natural gas to offer, but potential damage to inflict instead. On its side, the EU’s short-sightedness was yet again on full display during ECHR chair Spano’s recent scandalous and official visit to Turkey. It was a spit in the face of all us sincere democrats in Turkey.
For sure, it’s neither up to the EU nor the U.S. to release the no-longer-sustainable historic political tension built up over the centuries. Turkey can be a torn country indeed. Its coiled spring can unleash enormous energy instead of violence and headaches. The West — the U.S. and the EU, that is — must at last realize that Turkey is not their Mideast country “du jour” but a different one, and hence difficult to tackle. The EU should not turn its back and the U.S. should abstain from trying to remould Turkey into just another frontier guard.
As Ankara keeps on creating its own artificial historic moments, the West needs to double down with ingenuity. In a way, Turkey is too big to fail and is in need of a political bail out — with strings attached, naturally. It’s not an invitation to mingle in the country’s politics; it’s not at all capitulation. The Turkish Republic is founded on the rejection of “capitulations” in plural. Yet, before the politically unthinkable becomes inevitable, the toxic nature of Turkey’s politics needs a thorough clean-up and not a mere facelift. The West can ill afford to cover it up with concrete and walk away from it. It will be self-defeating for Turkey and the EU. Smart or not, sanctions will fail, whereas the framework for engagement is already there in the reviving of the EU accession talks.