Sailing in Uncharted Waters

April 7, 2020

The Arab Spring threw the Middle East in chaos. Then came the Ukraine conflict and Russia’s annexation of Crimea. As the Syrian conflict moved up on the international agenda the former receded. Despite on and off official statements regarding the illegitimacy of Crimea’s annexation, everybody knew that there would be no going back. With a rising China and a resurgent Russia “global realignment” became a current topic. There was even talk about “Cold War II” and more investment in military power. The rise of populism and authoritarianism led to a pessimistic outlook regarding the future of democracy. Okumaya devam et

Front Lines of the Battle Against Covid-19

March 27, 2020

“Operation Enduring Freedom”, “Operation Resolute Support”, “Operation New Dawn”, “Operation Unified Protector”, “Operation Decisive Storm”, to name a few, were recent decades’ ambitiously titled military interventions seeking to achieve narrow ends. Although diplomacy and multilateralism were sidelined, they all claimed to have the support of the so-called “international community”. In reality, they only represented its failure. Okumaya devam et

The Moment of Truth for the “International Community”

March 14, 2020

Mr. Kofi Annan who served as the seventh Secretary General of the UN from January 1997 to December 2006 was a remarkable diplomat and a statesman. In September 1999, in a speech on “the meaning of international community”, he said:[i]

“Some people say the international community is only a fiction. Others say it is too elastic a concept to have any real meaning. Still others say it is a mere vehicle of convenience, to be trotted out only in emergencies or when a scapegoat for inaction is needed. Some say there are no internationally recognized norms, goals or fears on which to base such a community. Op-ed pages refer routinely to the ‘so- called’ international community…”

But, being the UN Secretary General, he had to inspire optimism. So, he went on to say, “I believe these sceptics are wrong. The international community does exist. It has an address. It has achievements to its credit. And it is the only way forward.” Okumaya devam et

Afghanistan: Beyond Titles

March 10, 2020

Some believe that first impression is the last impression. So, they say one never gets a second chance to make a first impression. For others, first impressions count but last impressions are forever.

I had my first impression of the Afghan mujahideen in Pakistan. In 1989 Turkish President Evren paid a visit there. I was his director of private office. The program also included a meeting with the mujahideen leaders. The President was going to tell them that since the Soviets had withdrawn from Afghanistan it was time to end their infighting and focus on rebuilding the country. The meeting was to take place at the guest palace where the President was staying. A few minutes before the meeting our Pakistani hosts told me that the leaders had arrived. Just to make sure that everything was ready, I went downstairs and peeked through the door. I saw like ten battle-hardened, somber looking warriors in their traditional costumes. Okumaya devam et

Idlib Ceasefire: Only a Respite

March 8, 2020

On March 6, Presidents of Russia and Turkey met in Moscow. In remarks to the press before their meeting, President Putin said the situation in Idlib has deteriorated so much that the two leaders needed to have a direct and personal discussion. He added, “As you requested, we are ready to begin our talks one-on-one, and then our colleagues, who are with us in this room, will join us, if necessary.”

Thus, after the talks in restricted format, consultations continued with the participation of the delegations of the two countries. One may conclude, therefore, that the Syrian conflict with its Idlib dimension and the future of Russian-Turkish relations were taken up between the two leaders at full length. Okumaya devam et

An Ultimatum That Boomeranged

(Co-authored with Yusuf Buluç)[i]

The people of Turkey held their breath on the eve of the deadline set in the ultimatum  President Erdoğan served on the Syrian regime promising severe military punishment if  its forces  were not to withdraw to lines drawn in the so-called “Sochi agreement” between Russia and Turkey.  Evidently, there was no way that the regime, still recognized by the UN as the legitimate government of Syria, could heed this warning as it would amount to yielding its hard-won sovereign territory to Turkey’s control. More so, such withdrawal would have been hailed by some jihadist armed groups, listed by the UN as terrorist organizations,  which have taken most of the civilian inhabitants of the Idlib province as hostage in their quest to winning a rump of Syria to be dismembered. The regime, its air force largely under Russian command and control, reacted to the Turkish ultimatum not by resorting to terse and rejectionist rhetoric but unleashing a bombing campaign resulting in massive loss of life not recorded outside Turkish territory since the Korean war. Okumaya devam et

Turkey’s Narrowing Horizons

February 27, 2020

In the fall of 1966, I took a series of exams to join the Turkish Foreign Ministry. Among other things, we were asked to comment on a widely used metaphor, “Turkey is a bridge between East and West”. I wrote that throughout history Anatolia has been a meeting point of cultures and Turkey’s future lies in creating a successful synthesis. In my later years in diplomatic service, I continuously objected to the use of this metaphor arguing that a bridge belongs to neither of its banks and Turkey had already made her choice. With the launching of EU accession negotiations in October 2005, I came to believe that we had finally crossed the Bosporus Bridge and were travelling irreversibly towards the West. This by no means meant a rupture with the East for obvious reasons including geography and history.  Moreover, our good relations with the region were an asset for the EU. Okumaya devam et