When upon the invitation of talented Cansu Çamlıbel I accepted writing a weekly foreign policy column for Duvar English, by way of a reader profile I had pictured in my mind a junior diplomat in her/his first or second posting in Ankara. To me, this would be an intellectual “recruitment” process of long run wherein I would be trying to “educate” that person about Turkey and by doing so would be, if successful, “returning” that diplomat into a voluntary and subconscious emissary, an asset in short, of my country, our republic.
At the other end of my imagined reader spectrum, I also had in mind, what I call, the “know all” pundit, “seasoned” correspondent, diplomat, officer or NGO official who is most convinced that she/he “gets” Turkey right. In this case, my intention was to be less lenient but more abrasive. For I believe, challenging and questioning what one believes to know in general -but especially when the subject matter is as complex and multi-layered as Turkish history and identity- is a must. What is more, it appears somewhat unethical to distribute grades from a perceived moral high horse.
After all, “getting Turkey right” is a life-long and unrewarding loop of an exercise. The best outcome one can hope is to get to a point of being able to bequeath a sort of a “witness statement” after a life time of labour. That last point came to my mind as I watched the other night, ever brilliant David Attenborough’s “A Life on Our Planet” documentary. At the height of his 94 years and with the extreme humility that he has notwithstanding the fact that he is truly a towering figure in his field, Attenborough provides a very convincing case about what our earth was yesterday, what it became now and what we all should do to avoid an imminent global catastrophe tomorrow.
So, enough lamenting. Lament, as much as sarcasm, is an ulcerative dead end in itself, draining one of her/his energy to focus on the issue she/he needs to constantly deal with. And, unlike that “know-all pundit” figure, we down here have skin in “this” game as well. Analytical rigour must be a self-afflicted torture to even come close to a never perfect commentary of Turkish foreign policy. Turkey’s foreign policy is not a water-tight compartment safely tucked away from what it –the country itself- is and seeks to be. Visible to naked eye, structural contradictions are unsustainable, ergo something, at some point, must and will give in.
This lengthy prelude, perhaps repeating mostly if not exclusively lame banalities and not revealing any originality, is due to the fact I feel so exasperated today that I feel utterly incapable of getting into laying out and breaking down upcoming foreign policy challenges for Ankara whatever my intentions were initially. I hereby confess that I have not an inch of attempted rationality and cold blood left in me to try and expose those shortcomings in Erdoğan’s assertiveness. For, almost not a single day passes, that we do not observe as accumulating spits on our faces, a novel absurdity or a breach of the rules of the game.
To demonstrate my point, let’s briefly look over a selection of the catch of the last few days. Fahrettin Altun is a government official, hence a civil servant. He runs a presidential organisation by the name of Directorate of Communication employing over a thousand personnel operating out of an expensive high rise building in Ankara. Although in apparent charge of communication, Altun is not the presidential spokesperson. That title still belongs to İbrahim Kalın who by the way also stands in as the de facto national security adviser. Altun is commonly derided in the social media as an Orwellian propaganda minister.
Most recently this gentleman had the guts to utter with a straight face that “the state’s first and foremost duty is to protect its citizens from all sorts of extremes.” No need to look that pretended “duty” up in our constitution or in the text of our laws. Useless to define “extreme”.
Almost within the same breath Altun also emphasised that: “We will not remain silent in the face of homosexuality propaganda. To present this kind of ugliness especially to our youth as a normal thing is an attack on our social order.” If knee-jerk slamming is considered as “communication” one must readily admit that he is jolly good at his job as he manages to utter an endless string of gems on a daily basis.
This being a small world, almost simultaneously with Altun, at the US House of Representatives in Washington DC, Rep. Al Green (D-TX) responded to Rep. Greg Steube (R-FL) who said that “God opposes transgender rights” as such: "You used God to enslave my fore-parents. You used God to segregate me in schools. You used God to put me in the back of the bus. Have you no shame? God created every person in this room. Are you saying that God made a mistake?” We have the tradition of kissing the hand of our elderly and bring it to our foreheads to pay our respects: In my imagination I just did that when I came across Rep. Greene’s lines.
Whatever Altun’s pretension in communication may be, like Rep. Greene, he too claims loud and clear to be a God fearing individual. Ergo, has he really not a modicum of shame (or knowledge of Ottoman history for that matter) left at all, one can’t help but wonder. To add insult to injury this gentleman is an acclaimed university professor, teaching among others a course on political sociology. Think for a moment about yourself or one of your children being one of his students. How many other Altuns do we have in the midst of our society? Are they really a majority? Or, perhaps more pertinently, even if they are, does it or should it matter?
Also last week, Erdoğan unveiled with great pomp a 128 pages Human Rights Action Plan which in essence parroted the principles of the 1948 UN Universal Declaration of Human Rights which itself was adopted by the Turkish parliament in 1949. The plan as a 1.2 million euros project is jointly financed by the CoE and the EU. As Sezin Öney does the simple math, the plan costs 9.375 euros per page. Altun’s wonders came after. Also came after, unwarranted police harassment of journalists covering a peaceful assembly of women pre-celebrating March 8 International Women's Day in Kadıköy. Again after, Van MP Murat Sarısaç (HDP) was prevented and very muscularly so by the police from even according an interview to a journalist right in front of the same province’s governorate building. So far for human rights, action and plan.
Still Erdoğan claimed on Saturday: "At the smallest stumble, at the least weakness, they will even deem these lands of our country on which we live too much for us”. The year is 2021, last time I checked. Who, where and how many are THEY? If Turkey’s national security threat perception is at such an all-time high to reach existential alacrity level, why does it not for example invite NATO Permanent Council to an extra-ordinary session?
Why not, because “they” here is the West itself. Yet the last generation who happened to really fight the West did not keep the least of grudges towards it. On the contrary, they had accelerated the centuries long westernization cum modernization march by founding our secular republic and establishing diplomatic relations with those western powers on firm ground.
Along the same lines, PKK’s armed presence in Turkey’s mountains would have dwindled to less than three-hundred and be on a steady path to extinction as thundered day in day out by high level officials, with the Interior Minister Soylu first and foremost among them. Yet again according to the same official narrative, that same agonising PKK manages to garner our NATO ally and global power US’ unwavering support in north and east Syria. Furthermore, still that same official rhetoric preaches that the same mischievous PKK also manages to get its entrenchment right across the border in Shengal-Iraq propped up this time by none other than US’s main middle-eastern concern Iran. By default, PKK remains an existential threat. Go figure.
For a semblance of a conclusion, I would kindly warn that imaginary know all pundit not to count Turkey out as of yet. Whereas, I would also warn that junior diplomat that, I am afraid, the worst is yet to come. I wish, when the times get so absurd, the rational get going.