President Erdoğan exchanged letters with his French counterpart Emmanuel Macron. German Foreign Minister Heiko Maas is due to arrive in Ankara. Foreign Minister Çavuşoğlu visited Portugal and Spain as the former takes over the EU Council presidency. In the meantime, a bilateral deal to co-produce corona virus vaccine with Russia in Turkey is said to be concluded soon with Mr. Putin. In laboratory conditions, one would have been readily observing that the things are moving in the right direction -away from the guns, towards rational diplomacy. Why then the resentment, the bitter taste the feeling of déjà-vu, that “the more it changes, the more it is the same thing” frustration?
If you happen to be a Turkish intellectual with good enough command of one of Western language like English, French or German and a long enough living and/or studying experience again in one country belonging to democratic West, you would most probably have spent the better part of your life pondering about what went wrong with Turkey and whether you would ever “get there”. All the while, you would also know that many others, many generations even, before your sorry self, wasted their journeys wandering along the meandering or perhaps cyclical roads reminiscent of Schroeder’s Steps –of lately “Inception” fame.
A perma-war state, a constant state of emergency, an undeclared ongoing mobilization is the normal of the Republic. Since early 19th century sultans, ministers and generals alike lost their lives along the way, many were exiled while trying their hand at top-bottom change. While generations of activists, leftists, human rights defenders, Kurds and politicians were either incarcerated, outright assassinated trying their hand the other way around from the bottom. Writers, directors passed through the mill as well. University professors lost their jobs. All were “traitors.” All, if you buy the official version of the (hi)story were after a revolution and not reform while transformation never happened. Transition never ended -if it ever started in earnest.
Enter Wilson Center’s Middle East Chairman Jeffrey: “Trump supported Turkish military actions against Iran and Russia in Syria and in exchange for carrying this extra burden largely ignored the domestic behaviour of important partners. (…) Turkey and armed opposition elements in Syria worked with the United States to deny Assad a decisive military victory. (…) United States repeatedly responded to Russian military and mercenary activity in northeast Syria and helped Turkey fend off joint Syrian-Russian incursions in the country’s northwest.” With all due respect, it appeared as drawing a moustache to an elephant, sort of and with 20/20 hindsight, to my rather untrained eyes.
Anyway. Back to Turkey’s current foreign policy revision process, or lack thereof, which should be the focus of this humble piece. Egypt and UAE too seem to be poised for an ever elusive “reset” –to which Foreign M Minister Çavuşoğlu notes to be receptive. Minister of Defense Akar, from his corner, modifies the gambit as if Turkey’s woes with the US, culminating with its being kicked out of the F-35 program, is due to its national effort of producing its own line of (successful as proven in Qarabagh) combat UAVs but not to its procurement of S-400 air defence systems from Russia in the first place. Art of the deal, isn’t it? “If you buy it” in western parlance; “if you eat it” if one sticks with a literal translation from Turkish.
So, now what? During a recent correspondence, an old friend of mine confessed that she is more interested to read fiction rather than non-fiction lately. In my case, the more I get older, the more I am drawn to history, especially the latter half of the 19th century and the earlier quarter of the 20th. For, I am more and more inclined to confess and even yell that “I do not know what will happen next!” Anything goes. The EU, with or without Ms. Merkel at its invisible helm, set its priority as building a bulwark to the “nefarious” flow of refugees. The US, as seen above thru Ambassador Jeffrey’s ever self-confident eyes, again sees Turkey as a bulwark to Russia and Iran’s regional ambitions.
In short, the dance (a waltz?) is back on. Neither, either would or should, care about that “long transition” of Turkey. Neither has any inclination to see Turkey as an intrinsic part of the West. We are alone in our journey. “Why, nor should they!” one may exclaim. After all, perhaps they should. How our world would look today if G.H. Bush stick with Reagan’s late policy of holding the hand extended by Gorbachev to build a really pan-European structure of security? Can the thinly disguised glee in the EU of seeing the UK finally off actually heralds the end of the EU as a potentially significant global pole? Does remaining indifferent to the home-grown promotion efforts of Turkey to the first division or even staying the course to keep it relegated to the second make sense?
“If history is our guide”, the saying goes. Well, history is and was never our guide, I am tempted to prophesize. We all almost always make to do with what we have on hand as we proceed, constantly improvising. Ask any second division coach, he will eagerly tell you that he is no less of a manager than Mou. Even, now and then fairy tales with happy endings happen like Leicester City’s winning the premiership in 2015-16 season. An oriental fantasy is not a western project, that we know. The buck stops here, with us, that’s also true. Yet, a little help from our friends wouldn’t do any harm either.