Commentary: Turkey — The Regional Bully


By Edmond Y. Azadian

Turkey’s Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu took his office with a self-styled peace offensive to give a human face to his country’s battered foreign policy. His goal was double-pronged: zero problems with neighbors and spreading new Ottomanism to increase Ankara’s hegemony over nations formerly enslaved by the Ottoman Sultans. The two goals were inherently incongruous because peaceful relations with neighbors required respect towards their sovereignty, which Ankara’s policymakers did not seem to care about.

For those analysts studying Turkish foreign policy, Davutoglu’s policy was a force to reckon with. But it enjoyed the acquiescence and the encouragement of the major powers, because as Turkey began to implement its newfound policy, it was mindful to pay its dues to those powers. It did not take too long to divulge the farcical nature of that policy, as Turkey adopted a hostile posture against its neighbors.

Ankara’s arrogance is nurtured by its economic boom, just as the rest of the world — including its neighbor, Greece — is in alarming crisis. Russia and the Arab world are tributaries feeding Turkey’s economic recovery.

The irony of Turkish history is that countries which have armed Turkey and boosted its economy eventually become dependent on Turkey, which, in turn, becomes the necessary evil in formulating their policy and projecting their power in the region. Turkey boasts the second largest standing army in NATO, after the US. Therefore, the Turkish leaders believe they are entitled to a policing role in the region.

Ankara ruined its relations with almost all neighboring countries, while paying lip service to the idea of reducing its problems with them to zero. Let’s take a look at some of those “neighborly” relations.

To begin with, it shelved the much-heralded protocols with Armenia. However, recently it placed the issue again on the back burner of the parliamentary agenda to signal a gleam of hope to US Secretary of State Hilary Clinton, the architect of the protocol policy.

Relations with the legitimate government of Cyprus were already at a freezing point and Turkey not only refused to move in a positive direction, but it also threatened to send its warship to Cyprus to block the exploration of oil and gas on the continental shelf off that country. The matter was further complicated by the involvement of the American oil company, Noble, and Israeli participation in the exploration. But the bluff did not last long, since Ankara blinked first.

Ankara had already strained relations with Tel Aviv, over the Mavi Marmara incident, for which Turks demanded a public apology and which it did not get.

Not too long ago, Syria had become one of the major trading partners of Turkey, with whom the visa regime was eliminated with great fanfare. Ankara reversed its policy and hosted a Syrian government in exile, which angered Damascus to such a degree that it placed a ban on Turkish imports. At one point, Turkey announced that it was prepared to send its troops to Northern Syria (Der Zor included) to “protect” minorities, among them Armenians.

Today, Turkey is meddling in Syria’s internal affairs to destabilize that country.

Angry rhetoric was also exchanged across the border with Greece, which was asked to provide a military base to Israel after tensions escalated with Turkey. Ankara also frowned upon Azerbaijan over the warming of its relations with Israel, which is providing unmanned drones and military hardware to Azerbaijan. One of those drones was only recently shot down in Karabagh.

Israel makes a point with the world community that its security is compromised by rockets launched from the Gaza Strip. One must place the carcass of the Azeri drone next to those rockets, reminding the world that Armenia is equally entitled to secure its borders against drone attacks.

The Turkish onslaught on its neighbors is mostly derived by its domestic policy. It is in the interest of the government to keep its borders under tension, to silence internal dissent.

Ergenekon arrests have made the Turkish military restive. On the other hand, the Kurdish self-determination struggle is continuing relentlessly to warrant vigilance.

Turkey is getting away with murder, because, despite its vitriolic exchanges with Israel, basically it is serving that country’s long-term interests, by helping to dismantle all the hostile Arab regimes. Ankara has also agreed to install NATO rocket defense system in Malatia, supposedly to protect Europe from potential Iranian rockets, but actually the move is directed at Russia, by resurrected Cold Warriors, because Russia has a military base next door in Armenia. Even if the installation is limited to Iran, that still compounds Ankara’s hostility towards the Damascus- Tehran axis.

Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s diatribes against Israel are at best lip service designed to appease the credulous Arab street, so as to gain more lucrative contracts in Muslim countries.

A few words about the Arab spring or Arab awakening, which is nothing more but an Arab nightmare. Egypt for one, supposedly overthrew the dictatorship to bring anarchy, instability and a rise of Muslim fundamentalism. The same is prescribed to the other countries. Regimes which have been hostile to Israel at any given time are targets of this “awakening.” Iraq was the first one on the list and now Israel has set up shop in Northern Iraq. Although Muammar Qaddafi gave up all his nuclear and biological warfare ambitions, he was not forgiven because at one time he demonstrated hostility toward Israel. Now the overthrow of another sovereign nation, Syria, is on the agenda, through US muscle, and this time with Turkish cooperation, while Yemen is looming in the background, another hotbed for Arab nationalism!

Ankara’s bullying policy towards its neighbors was wrapped up in Erdgoan’s speech at the UN. He again paid lip service to the Palestinian cause, but the centerpiece of his discussions with President Barack Obama, while also supposed to be the Palestinian statehood, was switched by him that of fighting PKK “terrorism.” The US president agreed, after telling him bluntly that US was to veto Mr. Abbas’s bid for Palestinian statehood at the UN Security Council and the only way to attain that statehood was through negotiations with Israel. That way Erdogan did not compromise Turkey’s bid to be elected to the Security Council membership in the future.

Armenians have been patting each other on the back that the football diplomacy drove Ankara into a corner and that the ball is Ankara’s court. That ball might wait at that court for a long time, since Turkey has still a lot of bullying to do with its neighbors, with the open encouragement, duplicity and hypocrisy of the major world powers.