May 3, 2021
During my years at the Turkish Ministry of Foreign Affairs, I sometimes asked the ambassadors in Ankara how they viewed their job in our capital since they usually stressed Turkey’s location as a unique observation post for the broad region. Many said, “never a dull moment”. I always responded that I was hoping for the day when the answer would be “boredom”, and we laughed. Because, while Turkey’s geostrategic location is an asset, it comes at a price. The end of the Cold War was a relief. But with the wars in Yugoslavia, the Caucasus and the first Gulf War, all of a sudden, we found ourselves in the middle of three major conflict areas. There was a refugee flow from Bosnia to Turkey. Our trade with Europe was disrupted. The Iraq-Turkey oil pipeline remained closed for years. Our trade with Iraq and the Gulf suffered. Energy projects in the Caucasus became more complicated. The 2003 US invasion of Iraq and the Arab spring created new challenges.
Okumaya devam et
April 27, 2020
Coronavirus is seen as the greatest global challenge of modern times. Because, the death toll in some countries has reached tens of thousands. Just as important is the shock of unpreparedness, helplessness and vulnerability of a technologically advanced world under attack. A second wave is looming, but second-strike capability is of no consequence. Nonetheless, countries including those hardest hit are planning to ease restrictions because the economy matters. Okumaya devam et
February 22, 2019
The war in Syria appears to be coming to an end and the return of ISIS fighters and families to their countries is becoming a major issue.
The UK is unwilling to agree to the return of Shamima Begum, an unrepentant ISIS wife. And the US State Department has said that Hoda Muthana, another ISIS wife “is not a U.S. citizen and will not be admitted into the United States. She does not have any legal basis, no valid U.S. passport, no right to a passport, nor any visa to travel to the United States.”
Turkish daily Hürriyet reported today that the US has asked Turkey to undertake the protection of ISIS children. What that means is not clear, but it probably involves a US financial contribution to meet their needs, provide for their education, etc. It is more than likely that soon will come another proposal for the settlement of ISIS families in Turkey. After all Washington must think, a Turkish foreign minister had once referred to them as “angry kids”. Okumaya devam et
February 15, 2019
Yesterday was Valentine’s Day, the day of romance. Not on the international scene. The two important international meetings held on that very day reflected two worlds apart: the anti-Iran Warsaw meeting in effect “led and co-chaired by the US and Israel” and the Astana format meeting in Sochi. Neither gathering was able to reflect unity among its participants. German and French foreign ministers and EU’s High Representative for Foreign Affairs Federica Mogherini did not attend the former and differences remained in the latter.
President Trump did not go the Warsaw, but his representatives did their best to project his worldview. In his defiant 24-minute address to the “Ministerial to Promote a Future of Peace and Security in the Middle East” Vice President Pence mentioned him 20 times. Okumaya devam et
January 18, 2019
It has been a month since President Trump declared victory against ISIS in Syria and said US troops were returning home. It was only to be expected that the decision would lead to questions. Because, this was an abrupt announcement made on Twitter apparently without adequate consultation not only with allies but also within the Trump administration. Thus, the past month witnessed twists and turns between Ankara and Washington regarding northeastern Syria.
Moreover, as statements from Moscow show Russia is unlikely to support Turkish-American understandings/arrangements there. The situation in Idlib also remains high on the Turkish-Russian agenda.
On November 10, 2016 Donald Trump said, “If Putin wants to go and knock the hell out of ISIS, I am all for it, 100 percent, and I can’t understand how anybody would be against it.” Okumaya devam et
September 18, 2018
On September 17, 2018, Presidents Putin and Erdoğan met in Sochi. On top of their agenda was Idlib. This is what President Putin said at the joint press conference following the talks:
“We reviewed the situation in detail and decided to establish by October 15 a demilitarized area 15–20 km. deep along the contact line between the armed opposition and government troops, with radical militants to be withdrawn from the area, including al-Nusra. Also, by October 10, based on the Turkish President’s proposal, to secure the withdrawal of heavy military equipment, tanks, multiple rocket launchers, cannon and mortars of all opposition groups. Turkish mobile patrol groups and Russian military police units will conduct the monitoring of the demilitarized zone. Also, to restore transit along the Aleppo-Latakia and Aleppo-Hama routes before the end of 2018, also at the suggestion of the Turkish side…” (*)
President Putin’s using the word “also” three times in his description of the deal gives the impression that what was agreed upon in Sochi essentially reflects Ankara’s approach to the problem. The International Crisis Group said in a statement today that it welcomes the announcement which would appear to prevent a new deadly round of conflict with tremendous human cost. It added that implementing the agreement will be difficult, and its collapse cannot be ruled out. Turkey seems as if it may have to shoulder the heavy burden of partially disarming rebels inside the zone and emptying it of jihadists, a step those militants seem inclined to resist (**).
On the surface, the world seems to be united in preventing a humanitarian disaster with an extremely high civilian death toll, destruction, human suffering and grief. Yet, one only has to look at the past eight years of the Syrian war, what is going on in Yemen and Libya to see that this is far from being the case. Okumaya devam et
January 16, 2017
For understandable reasons, President-elect Donald Trump’s press conference and the Senate confirmation hearings of his team could not reflect a well-coordinated foreign and security policy approach. A reluctance to go into specifics as well as conflicting views were only to be expected. And, it appears that America’s coming to peace with a contentious election and Mr. Trump’s personal style will take time. Nonetheless, there are some clues regarding the incoming administration’s policy towards the Middle East. Okumaya devam et
October 4, 2016
On February 22, the United States and the Russian Federation, Co-Chairs of the International Syria Support Group (ISSG), issued the “Joint Statement on Cessation of Hostilities in Syria”. As a first reaction, even the most optimistic observers remained cautious. Pessimists were easier to find. Indeed, on the one hand this was a positive development, at least an effort to bring some though enough specificity to the hitherto broadly expressed concept of a ceasefire. And most importantly, this was the first time since the elimination of Syria’s chemical weapons that Russia and the US had a detailed agreement regarding the Syrian conflict. On the other hand, the complexity of the ground situation with more than a hundred fighting groups, shifting alliances and lack of monitors were huge challenges. One could say, therefore, that the Joint Statement marked the beginning of a frustrating “ceasefire process” with many ups and downs. It was obvious that agreeing on who is a “moderate” and who is a “terrorist” would constitute a major challenge in a region characterized by murky relationships. Okumaya devam et
August 25, 2016
Deputy Prime Minister Numan Kurtulmus met a group of journalists, professors and think tank representatives on August 15, 2016. He reportedly said: “Many of the things Turkey is facing today is the result of our Syria policy. This is also true for others but we could not formulate a viable policy. I wish a perspective of peace had been created in the beginning…” By “things” he must have meant the problems, challenges and the threats Turkey is currently confronted with.
In a country where “self-criticism” remains anathema, this was a most remarkable admission. Mr. Kurtulmus is not a member of the opposition. He is not a columnist. He is not a blogger. He is the Deputy Prime Minister of the ruling Justice and Development Party (JDP) Government which, through a string of election victories, has been in power since 2002. So, his words carry weight and must be of consequence. It is understandable that he refrained from going into specifics but the thrust of his statement was clear. Indeed, it all started with Syria and a reckless strategy to redesign the Middle East. Okumaya devam et
July 4, 2016
The mother of all Turkey’s current foreign policy problems in the Middle East is our misguided involvement in the Syrian conflict. Yes, President Assad may have been a dictator; yes, he may have missed opportunities to start democratizing his country; and yes, he may have brutally repressed the opposition. Nonetheless, Syria is our neighbor and we cannot change geography. Many countries oppose the Assad regime but none of them shares a 900 kilometer border. And, being a neighbor Turkey should have known better than anyone else that regime change in Syria was not to come about as easily as it did in Tunisia or Egypt, not to speak of Libya, that being Arab Spring Act III, with President Sarkozy in the leading role. Our government should also have foreseen that the Syrian fire would eventually engulf the wider region including Turkey. And, on this very day, Turkey should still have been trying to mediate between Damascus and the moderate opposition. The Turkish government, however, got carried away under the illusion that by leading regime change in Damascus it could become the region’s leader. This has proved to be a huge miscalculation. The price we have been paying for this fantasy in terms of our external and internal security, economy and foreign trade has been extremely high, a case in point being the string of terrorist attacks which have rocked the country. Okumaya devam et