As violence often follows political change in Turkey, so too was the case after the June 14 in-person meeting between presidents Erdoğan and Biden. A murder was committed on June 18 in the Aegean port city of İzmir. The first casualty’s name was Deniz Poyraz. She was a Kurdish woman with a telling Turkish name in her twenties who played violin in her spare time and worked at the HDP’s provincial headquarters. And no, I won’t mistakenly add “pro-Kurdish” before HDP because it is an insult for both late Ms. Poyraz and the HDP. As its’ name suggests HDP is the Peoples’ Democratic Party. “People” in plural being an antidote to “nation” in singular.
To put it in another way perhaps, Biden was right in blowing a gasket when reprimanding Caitlan Collins of CNN in Geneva. Biden had just finished a press conference following his summit with Putin when stopped in his tracks by Collins’ questioning him “why are you so confident [Putin] will change his behaviour, Mr. President?” As with Mr. Putin, Mr. Erdoğan too does not appear to be inclined to change his behaviour. He was late by a full two day delay before condemning the abovementioned attack. And he did so with such a wording that he minimized the murder to a provocative act with no subject and no object, as if the murder was committed as in a political vacuum. He also did not shy away from cryptically adding that he will be condemning “similar acts as well” (in the future) as if there is more to come.
The EU, our new global Singapore home to less than 10 percent of the world’s population had already abdicated by passing the ball to the incoming Biden administration. Now it was Biden’s turn to take a step back. On both the S-400 sanctions (the sanctions not the air defence system itself) and the military support to the YPG accounts he held his cards. In return, Erdoğan well-timed his offer to secure the Kabul International right before the Brussels summit. Biden flew home happy having a found a willing NATO ally to stand guard to avert Kabul turning into a second Saigon. As for the EU, the mandarins in Brussels since a while now are happy and satisfied that Turkey itself does appear to have effectively forgotten its’ candidate country status.
So here we find ourselves at the end of foreign policy. There are no policies to comment upon but mere horse-trading in guise of diplomacy. True, there are much bigger themes such as the climate change and the survival of democracies up against the Chinese challenge. Unfortunately then, we find ourselves relegated under the “any other business” bullet point. As HDP is not “pro-Kurdish”, the citizens of the Republic of Turkey are not anti-liberty in majority. Once the power will change hands, they will prove that they have a memory as well and act accordingly. They too would like to have the same latitude awarded to Erdoğan once their hands will be on the tiller.
By that default, the bedevilling problem in Turkey’s foreign policy can well be the provincialism and the constant navel-gazing of the self-labeled “democratic” opposition. Although stating their aim as “crowning the republic with democracy”, when it comes to tackle foreign policy issues the CHP and the İYİ Party duo is no less nationalistic than the ruling AKP-MHP coalition. The public opinion too is no less confusing. The prestigious KHAS University in Istanbul conducts yearly opinion polls to gauge the public perception of the government’s foreign policy. According to KHAS report, Turkey’s NATO ally US still tops the list in threat perception by other countries by 54% -although steadily coming down from 81.3% two years ago. At the same time, the US also tops the list of the countries to cooperate with by 31.4%. Go figure.
To conclude, the dual abdication of President Biden in Brussels and in Geneva would be received by presidents Erdoğan and Putin as having weathered the storm. Obviously, it is neither up to nor the mission of the U.S. to democratize either country. Yet the geopolitics of the İzmir murder and the diplomatic ripple effect of the bargain struck in Brussels is telling. The fascist murderer in İzmir turns out to have spent time in northern Syria fighting alongside Turkey backed rebels. The bargain in Brussels is already soured by Ankara’a amateurish approach to ignore the government in place in Kabul and its’ drive to bring Pakistan in its’ wake. Biden’s administration may keep in their minds Lavoisier’s “nothing is lost, everything is transformed” rule while conducting any future business.