On February 6, 2023, two major earthquakes struck southern and central Turkey and northern and western Syria. The international media correctly referred to them as the “Turkey-Syria earthquakes”. But for those familiar with the downturn relations between the two countries as a result of the Turkish government’s misguided leadership role in the regime change project in Syria, the title also had a political message: cooperation between neighboring countries is the dictate of reason no matter what. Twelve years ago, Ankara and Damascus were the closest friends, but then they became enemies. And the earthquakes united them in misery. The delays in getting international aid to quake-stricken regions of Syria were most unfortunate.
Last Monday in an article titled, “Biden’s Surreal and Secretive Journey into a War Zone”by Peter Baker and Michael D. Shear, the New York Times shared some details of President Biden’s visit to Ukraine with the reader.[i] It said the president played his part in the ruse which included a dinner at the Red Hen restaurant with the First Lady where they enjoyed the rigatoni before going back to the White House, hours before his departure for Europe. And that was just the beginning.
Two years ago, on February 19, 2021, at the 2021 Virtual Munich Security Conference, President Biden addressed the global community for the first time. He defined the partnership between Europe and the US as the cornerstone of all that the West hopes to accomplish in the 21st century, just as it did in the 20th century. He said, “I know — I know the past few years have strained and tested our transatlantic relationship, but the United States is determined — determined to reengage with Europe, to consult with you, to earn back our position of trusted leadership.”
Already, there is a lot to be said about the Turkey-Syria earthquake. There will be much more in the weeks and months ahead. Neither the dust will set settle, nor the grief, and anger will go away soon. But one can perhaps wait until the victims of the disaster are laid in their final resting places. All I wish to say for now is that Türkiye is eternally grateful to those rescue workers from abroad who joined the Turkish teams in a heroic effort to deal with the tragic consequences of this catastrophe. And I also would simply draw attention to the glaring contradiction between saving lives in Türkiye and Syria and the year-long bloodshed in Ukraine.
In 2009, the communique issued at the end of the Damascus meeting of the “Turkish-Syrian High-Level Strategic Cooperation Council” referred to a “strategic partnership”, at the time a fashionable label for Türkiye’s external relationships. It mentioned common threats and challenges confronting the two countries. A year later, Turkish Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu, in remarks to the press with his Syrian counterpart in Latakia, underlined that the exemplary relationship between Syria and Türkiye was serving as a model for regional partnerships and that the two countries were aiming at total economic integration with neighbors.
At the end of January Secretary of State Blinken visited Egypt where he met with Foreign Minister Sameh Shoukry and President El-Sisi. His remarks there were full of praise for Egypt and the strategic partnership between the two countries. In remarks to the press with the Minister he also said:
“Making tangible and lasting improvements on human rights is essential to strengthening even more our bilateral relationship. It’s a priority for members of our Congress from both of our parties. And it’s fundamentally in the interest of the Egyptian people, which is why I know the President is pursuing these efforts.”
On January 25, Chancellor Scholz told the Bundestag that Germany will send Leopard 2 tanks to Ukraine. For some, the German government was bowing to growing “international pressure”. For Mr. Scholz and others, the German government was maintaining that its lockstep approach to weapons deliveries is the best way to support Ukraine, and the only way this can be done is by having the support of the German public opinion.
On January 20, the US-led Ukraine Defense Contact Group met at Ramstein Air Base in Germany under the chairmanship of Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin. The meeting, attended by more than fifty nations and NATO’s Secretary General Stoltenberg, was the eighth in a series of meetings initiated in April 2022, to discuss efforts to provide military support to Ukraine.
Although not yet officially announced, it appears that Türkiye will hold presidential and parliamentary elections on May 14, 2023. President Erdoğan is running for a third term and the group of six opposition parties known as the “table of six”, still has to agree on a candidate for president. To use two popular phrases used to define the changing global order, Türkiye is also at an “inflection point” or at a “defining moment”. Because in these elections, the people of Türkiye will judge the two decades of the Justice and Development Party’s (AKP) increasingly authoritarian rule. And the world would judge them accordingly since these elections are the last exit for democracy, the separation of powers, the independence of the judiciary, and accountability.
Last week, Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kishida visited France, Italy, Britain, Canada, and the US. In the background was the war in Ukraine, China’s growing military might, North Korea’s becoming a de facto nuclear power, and Japan’s “National Security Strategy”, made public on December 16, 2022.