June 24, 2014

Abant Platform: Turkey has lost its direction in a troubled region

Participants in the 33rd Abant Platform, which is taking place in the province of Bolu, have agreed that Turkey has lost its direction in both domestic and foreign policy, generating concern over its social cohesion and the fate of its relations with Europe and the Middle East.

At the Abant Platform "Turkey's Direction" will be examined by 120 distinguished participants between June 20 and 22. In Friday's first session "Turkey's Place in the Global System" was discussed, focusing on the Syrian civil war, chaos in Iraq and the military coup in Egypt as well as the current government's worsening relations with Europe.

Several scholars and intellectuals voiced their concerns about Turkey's policy towards radical Islamist organizations in the Middle East, arguing that the Muslim world is undergoing its darkest period in terms of violent interpretations of Islam.

Delivering an opening speech former Foreign Minister Yaşar Yakış said the Turkish government made a great mistake in cutting diplomatic ties with the countries that it has problems with such as Egypt, Syria and Israel and called on the political authority to revise Turkey's foreign policy.

“Thus Turkey lost opportunities to be more influential in the Middle East. In such extraordinary periods when conflicts erupt and interests clash, any country's foreign policy should be more active to overcome the problems. So, Turkey by closing connections and terminating communication with these countries made a huge mistake and it failed,” Yakış noted.

In regards to solving Turkey's impasse with these states Yakış emphasized that Turkey should first recognize that an influential foreign policy in the Middle East is impossible without cooperating with Egypt. Rebuilding bridges with the Cairo administration is a must.

About the strained relations with the Baghdad government, Yakış said Turkey should seek a formula that appeases the central administration's concerns for the autonomous Kurdish region of Iraq, built around the oil trade with Turkey.

Referring to a recent oil trade agreement between Turkey and the Kurdish authority in northern Iraq, Yakış reminded the audience that “according to international agreements, the oil in the region belongs to all of the Iraqi people not only Kurdish people, so Turkey should follow a balanced policy on this issue.”

On the recent developments in Syria and its potential effects on Turkey, Yakış noted that Turkey should adopt a new Syrian policy, one which recognizes the current reality instead of supporting the extremist elements that are a huge threat to the region.

Delivering a speech, Today's Zaman columnist and former European Parliament member Joost Lagendijk said the zero problem foreign policy, based on Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoğlu's book titled “Strategic Depth,” had not worked out.

He confirmed that the Justice and Development Party (AK Party) government, which came to power in 2002, had achieved great successes such as accelerating the EU accession process, developing better relations with the Assad regime by encouraging it to take democratic steps and grant more basic freedoms to its people and joint Turkish-Brazilian-Iranian nuclear negotiations as well as a protocol between Turkey and Armenia.

Lagendijik stressed that the Arab awakening changed policies in the Middle East. Turkey's Western allies initiated a policy of supporting the Syrian opposition but later, Europe became increasingly selective about the type of Syrian opposition it gave support to, while Turkey had not considered such divisions among the Syrian opposition.

The Syrian opposition was transformed into more radical and jihadist elements, creating a division between Turkey and Europe on Syria, said Lagendijik, and Turkey should have continued to keep in touch with the countries it had lost contact with despite the fact that fundamental divisions were occurring.

“Whether right or wrong, in relations diplomatic and political channels should be kept open. Otherwise you become isolated from the region,” Lagendijk added.

Lagendijk stated that since the Gezi Park protests in İstanbul last year, which were sparked by outrage at the violent eviction of a sit-in at the park protesting the government's construction plans and causing concerns for freedom of the press and to expression, many things have gone wrong in both Turkey's domestic and foreign policy.

“Despite the current problems and divisions on policies towards the Middle East, Turkey once again gained importance in the eyes of the EU, despite the mutual critical rhetoric. Both the EU and Turkey need each other for a reliable Middle East policy,” Lagendijk added.

About the fundamentalist elements like al-Qaeda and al-Qaeda splinter group the the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) which is staging attacks on several Iraqi cities and took more than 80 Turkish citizens hostage, including the Turkish consul general in Mosul, Islamic scholar and Zaman daily columnist Ali Bulaç also said the Islamic world has been experiencing its darkest age due to these nihilism-motivated fundamentalist terrorist groups.

Bulaç also criticized the Turkish government's shortsighted support of the political Islamic agenda in the region, stressing that Turkey should be critical of itself in terms of the policy it has followed in recent years.

“We now face a Wahhabi-style fundamentalist belief system which will harm Sunnis, Shiites and other sects of Islam, as well as threatening all of the societies in the Middle East. With great capital backing the jihadist movement, the Muslim world is facing the greatest threat to its existence. Now it is time to discuss the relation between violence and Islam and how the process led to this outcome,” Bulaç added.

Featuring political scientists, experts on international relations from Turkey and abroad, journalists and politicians who evaluate Turkey's path in light of the developments of recent years, the platform will issue a final declaration based on its findings and discussions on the matter.

Some of the panel discussions are “Turkey's Place in the Global Structure,” “System Debate and the Separation of Powers,” “Democratic and Environment-Sensitive Development,” “Civil Society and Political Participation” and “Problems of Democratic Representation: Majoritarianism and Pluralism.”

Constitutional law professor Ergun Özbudun, former European Parliament deputy Joost Lagendijk, Professor İştar Gözaydın, Confrontation Association (Yüzleşme Derneği) President Cafer Solgun, Associate Professor Bican Şahin, Professor Eser Karakaş, adviser at the European Parliament Ali Yurttagül, Abant Platform President Levent Köker, Professor Ersin Kalaycıoğlu, Professor Serap Yazıcı, political scientist Tanel Demirel and Associate Professor İhsan Yılmaz are among the participants at the event.

Published on Journalists and Writers Foundation, 20 June 2014, Friday