Commentary: Davutoglu’s ‘Zero Problem’ Policy


By Edmond Y. Azadian

Anyone who underestimates Turkey’s diplomatic prowess, does so at his or her own peril. Since the Ottoman era, Turkey has wielded a very skillful diplomacy matched only by its military power. And the current chief of Turkey’s foreign policy establishment, Ahmed Davutoglu, is from that lineage of smooth diplomats who also aspire to restore the “harmony” that supposedly existed among the subject nations of the empire through a misrule of iron and blood.

The foreign minister is also a brilliant scholar who is well aware that Ottoman ways can no longer yield the desired “harmony,” therefore he has devised a new diplomatic tool, a catchy motto to give a positive spin to Turkey’s current foreign policy — “zero problems with Turkey’s neighbors.”

But a serious analysis will soon reveal that the positive spin is only skin-deep and is nothing but a veneer.

To begin with that diplomacy is the reflection of Turkey’s growing power in the region and the world. The Cold War helped to build its armed forces and its economy. Today, Ankara boasts of having the second largest standing army in the NATO structure. TheWest also has built Turkey’s economy and theWorld Bank has bailed it out every time the country went bankrupt.

But the West is still building Turkey’s armed forces; France is supplying sophisticated military hardware to its air force, the US is continuing its 7/10 ratio in supplying it military equipment to Greece and Turkey and even Russia has become a serious arms supplier to that country.

One would wonder why? To what end are Turkey’s armed forces are being boosted?

We need only to be reminded of the Kemalist double-edged policy in the early days of the Turkish Republic making the newly-established Soviet leaders believe that the Milli movement was a progressive one of the socialistic brand, thus assuring Moscow’s support, while flirting with the West and making the Western powers believe that they have discovered a buffer zone between their influence and the expanding Soviet hegemony.

Today, we see that Turkey is ready to bite the hands that feed it.

A “zero problem” policy implies that Turkey is willing to compromise on intractable problems extant with its neighbors. But in fact, it has been using its strategic position, its military might and its newly- found economic powerhouse status to bully and intimidate its neighbors and to reduce the problem to the zero level in its favor and at the expense of its neighbors.

The Economist weekly has dedicated a 16-page special segment in its October 23-29 issue to Turkey, analyzing all the country’s aspects — military, economic, political and other.

Almost all the articles end up glorifying Turkey’s achievements — with some lip service to its internal and external problems — always ending with the conclusion that the country qualifies to join the European Union (EU). Turkey’s relations with Armenia have also been covered, once using the “alleged” qualification to the issue of the Genocide and twice referring without any such qualification.

There is an interesting quote about the trio ruling Turkey today, which goes like this: “The mercurial Mr. Erdogan does not make it easier for Turkey to conduct a coherent foreign policy, as demonstrated by the Davos incident and his torpedoing of the Armenian deal. In 2004-05, he twice came close to jeopardizing Turkey’s chances of opening membership negotiations with the EU. Semih Idiz, a journalist with Milliyet newspaper, jokes of Turkish foreign policy: Davutoglu makes, Erdogan breaks and Gul picks up the pieces.”

If anything, Turkey has been engaged with an aggressive foreign policy. Davutoglu’s style is proactive rather than reactive.

It is no surprise that the Economist of London promotes Turkeys’ membership in the EU. Lavish praise showered on Turkish leaders is the reflection of the same policy: Davutoglu was honored by the Woodrow Wilson Institute in Washington and President Abdullah Gul by Chatham House in London. Adding insult to injury, the Turkish State Minister Egemen Bagis has been awarded the “Religious Freedom” medal in the European Parliament while his country is sitting on the ruins of 2000 Armenian churches and monasteries.

Following the collapse of the Soviet Empire, the European Union was actively trying to counterbalance the unipolar power structure of global politics, especially spearheaded by Germany’s Chancellor Helmut Schmidt and France’s Jacques Chirac, while Britain’s Tony Blair was playing the spoiler, to prevent the emergence of another pole, meaning Europe.

The US and Britain are eager to see Turkey integrated in the EU to assume the spoiler role permanently.

At the present time, Turkey is mending its fences with Russia and the Arab world to keep the West guessing how did it lose Turkey.

Turkey’s influence is growing in the Arab world, because the desperate masses in those countries believe they have found an advocate for their cause, since the Davos incident and reinforced by the Mavi Marmara flotilla raid. Although hot rhetoric is being exchanged between Ankara and Tel Aviv, relations are not at the breaking point.

The credulous Arab everyman believes that the hearts of Turkish leaders are bleeding for the plight of Gaza people, whereas Turkey has another axe to grind — an unspoken crisis to solve.

The US invaded Iraq to neutralize a powerful enemy of Israel. With the elimination of the Saddam regime, a power vacuum was created in the Middle East, which Israel is pushing to fill. It specially set up shop in Northern Iraq, training the Kurdish army and pacifying the area under Kurdish rule. Even Iraqi- Armenians fell safer in the Kurdistan region and they settled there.

In all but name, the emergence of Kurdistan is a reality fanning the hopes of 16 million Kurds in Turkey. This tectonic shift in the Middle East irritates Turkish leaders tremendously and they are trying to get even with Israel.

An autonomous (or virtually independent) Kurdistan does not auger well for Turkish leaders because they already see the handwriting on the wall about the partition of their own country should the Kurds get stronger in the region.

Kurdish autonomy or independence aspirations threaten the territorial integrity of Turkey. That is why, with all the rhetoric of liberalization, Erdogan shot down a parliament resolution to allow the instruction of the Kurdish language in the schools all the while chiding Chancellor Angela Merkel for refusing to open Turkish schools in Germany.

As to why the violence is continuing in the other regions of Iraq, it is not different to surmise: the moment the Iraqi government stabilizes and allows US forces to return home, Baghdad may gravitate towards Iran when left unattended and undo what the neocons forced Washington to do.

Therefore, Turkey not only has not reduced its problems with Israel and Iraq to zero, to the contrary, it has raised the ante.

Another neighbor, namely Syria, was threatened with war by Ankara, when it was facing the huge Israeli army, to expel Kurdish leader Abdullah Oçalan and thus Turks rewarded Damascus by canceling the visa regime and by opening the Ataturk Dam, which had blocked the Euphrates river irrigation water to flow into Syria.

On the Cyprus issue, the Turkish leaders continue their intransigence by keeping their 30,000-strong occupation force stay put in Northern Cyprus.

And after their partition plan failed on the island, they brought a more uncompromising leader to the puppet government in the north. Contrary to EU resolution, Ankara refuses to open its ports to Greek Cypriot shipping, and the Athens government, gripped by a devastating economic crisis, has been desperately engaging in an economic cooperation policy with Turkey, notwithstanding the Gordian Knot in Cyprus.

With all the international cooperation Greece was unable to force Turkey to abide by the Lausanne Treaty terms to open the Greek Orthodox seminary in Heybeli, nor to recognize the ecumenical title of the Greek Orthodox Patriarch.

Although Bulgaria suffered from almost four centuries of Ottoman misrule, the residual Turkish community in that country has been energized and has enough clout to force the Sofia government into cooperation with Turkey. The Turkish faction prevented Bulgaria from recognizing the Armenian Genocide.

Recently Turkish leaders visited Nakhichevan and made intimidating announcements directed at Armenia. In that way, they warn that the blockaded exclave is under their tutelage and that they will help boost its depressed economy.

The Turks also had acquired a legal fig leaf in the Treaty of Kars by stipulating that the Baku government cannot cede that region to a third party [Armenia] without Ankara’s consent. That is why the protocols implicitly call for the revival of the Kars Treaty, to keep Nakhichevan under Azeri occupation and to seal the border with Armenia for perpetuity.

That visit also encouraged Ilham Aliyev to increase his bellicose posture, further threatening not only to recover Karabagh by war, but also to claim Armenia proper for Azerbaijan.

Until that moment Armenia was playing cool and emphasizing the diplomatic route to solve the outstanding Karabagh crisis. But the last war cry prompted a strong response from Armenia. First, Minister of Defense Seyran Ohanian responded and very recently the president himself warned that should Azerbaijan continue the war rhetoric, we will solve our problem with that country once and for all.

Ankara killed the protocols to support Azerbaijan and to continue its hostile policy towards Armenia.

It is obvious that Davutoglu’s zero-problem policy with Turkey’s neighbors has many holes, in fact many zeroes.

Turkish policy in the Caucasus and, for that matter everywhere else, is not intended for peace and stability, as it is proclaimed.

Davutoglu’s smooth talk can dupe some people for some time but not all people all of the time.