Did Ankara just reach the ropes, finally?

Let's try to fly over the most recent conflictual developments and keep in mind the question whether these set, now and finally, the definitive ropes for Ankara’s endless foreign policy endeavours.

My father used to tell me WW2 stories by way of lunch time tales when he tried to expedite my painstakingly slow consumption of the food on my plate when I was a wee kid. Like many kids I was asking him to tell to relay the exact same story in the exact same way I was told a hundred times before for the umpteenth time. Among those as I recall, General Patton’s interrupted headlong dash to Berlin was a favourite.

My dad, born in 1930 and a convinced anti-communist, always lamented that history would be different if Patton’s fuel supply was not cut off by his own command chain. Either that, or perhaps also because his own granddad was killed and buried in Berlin in 1922 and my own granddad who had long passed away before I was born spent his formative years in the then –and now, but not when I was playing with the food on my plate in the first half of 70s- capital of Germany. 

Anyway, that yarn all of a sudden resurfaced in my mind as I sat down to write this piece to ruminate aloud for an umpteenth time about the perspectives of “new” Turkey’s, if one puts it timidly, “assertive” foreign policy. Therein lies the dilemma: Is it sustainable? If these policies are reminiscent of the Union & Progress era of my great-granddad, is the same outcome awaits us? Are these policies designed to keep the public euphoria at a constant high or are they merely extensions of the need to keep the undeclared mobilization on and continue with the “coup permanent”?   

The great granddad in question was chief in the implementation of those policies on the Eastern Front as the Governor of Trabzon province that stretched from Samsun to Hopa at that time. Thus he was made to make the ultimate sacrifice for his diligent work which positioned him as one the main instigators of the genocidal campaign against the Armenians. His story, in a different way like Gen. Patton’s decades later, does not end as planned. Another question invites itself then: Is there a plan? 

Let’s fast forward to our day and try to fly over the most recent conflictual developments and keep in mind the question whether these set, now and finally, the definitive ropes for Ankara’s endless foreign policy endeavours. One is the outright mingling in TRNC presidential elections of yesterday. The other is the deteriorating political situation in Iraq and the deal reached about Sinjar between the UN, the KRG and Baghdad. The third is the ceasefire agreement brokered by Russia between Azerbaijan and Armenia. 

These test and expose the limits of the coercive and constant action full steam ahead sort of foreign policy where diplomacy is shunned for the sake of military muscle. Action for the sake of action might be dearly needed for the regime. The archetypal bicycle analogy that one falls off unless one pedals hard enough and all the time is in many people’s lips. “Fuite en avant” is another common explanation.

Whereas during his heyday Ahmet Davutoğlu eagerly jumped on a plane wherever he perceived a bushfire he thought he can excel extinguishing at, nowadays troops, drones or failing to do so Syrian mercenaries are dispatched in a moment’s notice wherever a war starts to rage in the so-called near abroad. The point in common: Excess of zeal is thought of as pro-active policy. Yet to do nothing is to do much often times in diplomacy.

See Lavrov’s tripartite ceasefire with an “invariability of negotiating process” framework firmly attached -meaning “Turkey, you will stay out of this.” The way back in: The violation of the ceasefire. Nevertheless, the combat operations are on Azeri soil. Any final solution must include the restitution of the Armenian occupied territories back in Azerbaijan and a self-determination decision for Nagorno-Karabakh.

As for the island goes, there is only one horse running in the race and that horse couldn’t make it through the last stretch alone in the first round of the presidential elections. Meaning, Ankara couldn’t even manage it as far as the coercion tactic ago in the TRNC. Mr. Akıncı stood firm in his ground and likely Mr. Erdoğan will have to live with him another five years even with, this time around, without a hand-picked PM as the government crumbled in protest to direct and rude mingling with the election process.

In Iraq since the enigmatic assassination of the Turkish official Mr. Osman Köse in the heart of Erbil in July 17, 2019 that involved renowned businessman Sidqi Bradosti, Mr. Ghazi Salih, head of (unofficial) KDP Serzer border crossing in the Dohuk province is killed in his home in Oct.8, 2020 in the midst of ongoing TAF operations in the region. In Sinjar/Shengal where Ankara complains about PKK presence, the abovementioned deal seems to have rushed Ambassador Fatih Yıldız to a meeting with Iraqi Interior Minister following which the Ambassador had the urge to let off steam by uttering tough rhetoric through his personal Twitter account.

“It’s the economy stupid”, the saying goes. When Turkey is concerned, that translates in general terms as “it’s the national security stupid” and please take note, not “law and order.” Those hermetic “national security” priorities are sort of cast in stone and readily understood as the “national cause.” Economical shortcomings according to well respected experts do not affect neither the voting patterns nor the “assertive” foreign policy.

Perhaps. Yet the question remains the same: Who is running the show in Ankara? If we translate directly from the Turkish instead of asking “who is at the helm?” we should rather ask “who” or furthermore “where is (in) the kitchen?” And by default, in an eventual peaceful and democratic change of hands in Ankara, “whether the hammam (Turkish bath) will remain the same, but only the  ‘tellak” (rubber) will be different?”       

May 17, 2021 An odd road companion