Turkey takes a real and holistic negotiation relationship with the EU as its basis rather than that of bargaining, and is acting naturally while keeping its own interests in mind.
A cliché accompanies this oft-encountered evaluation: While in the first period, the AK Party tried to get closer to the West, in the second period it has opted to lean toward the Middle East and distance itself from the West. This ideological interpretation, despite being far from understanding the rational basis and interests of Turkish foreign policy, is unfortunately gaining acceptance.
Many analysts prefer to evaluate Turkish foreign policy after 2000 in two periods. The first is between 2002 and 2010, and the second is that after 2010.
In the first period when those concerned asked the question of what the indicators of Turkey getting closer to the West are, the answer was that it is Turkey’s decisive attitude for becoming an EU member. Laws were adapted to EU norms, the path for membership negotiations to begin was cleared and Turkey’s EU agenda was placed at the center of domestic politics.
The justification of the change in the aftermath of 2010 was Turkey’s desire to be a role model for the Arab world. Indeed, when we look back to the time of the Arab Spring, we see that there were debates about the “Turkish model” and the thesis of a political formation with Islamic values coming to the administration through democratic means was kept up. But this should not signify an ideological U-turn on Turkey’s part due to a request to become a role model.
This is also an ideological interpretation. In fact, another reference that is made while searching for evidence of Turkey’s change after 2010 makes this ideological interpretation even more obvious. This is Turkey’s approach to Iran after that date. As can be remembered, Turkey objected to the international sanctions on Iran due to security worries and economic justifications. This situation was evaluated as a rapprochement between the Islamist AK Party administration in Turkey and the Islamist Iranian government. However, when Turkey and Iran came up against each other due to the Syria crisis just a short time after that, those who alleged that Turkey and Iran had come closer due to Islamist worries did not find the need to put forward a different evaluation.
Another factor brought forward by those who speak of the change after 2010 and the supposed ideological U-turn is the breakdown of relations between Turkey and Israel. The AK Party administration’s ideological attitude and anti-Israeli stance were shown as excuses for this. All of this was presented as evidence of Turkey’s change of axis and distancing from Europe after 2010. However, reducing bilateral relations to the attitude of a single actor is, to put it very simply, reductionism. In bilateral relations, it is necessary to keep in mind environmental conditions as well as the parties’ attitudes. Meaning not just Turkey’s attitude, but also the EU’s attitude and the changing security concerns of the region Turkey is in, in the aftermath of 2010 all affected the path of this relationship.
The European Union began to develop serious resistance to Turkey’s full membership process and, with cultural barriers at the head, began to put insurmountable obstacles in Turkey’s path. Turkey gradually came to signify an identity crisis for the European Union. This situation caused Turkey to re-evaluate its passionate position on the EU and brought with it a pulling of this relationship to a more rational basis. After 2002, the AK Party administration had evaluated the adaptation process to the EU as an important dynamic for the democratization and civilianization of Turkey’s politics, and believed it to be a factor that would contribute to the country’s economic growth. This also increased the excitement and motivation of the political administration. The main point of departure here was Turkey’s internal needs. Turkey’s European counterparts, however, evaluated this policy as the natural extension of the new identities of old Islamists who have arrived in power. In an essentialist manner, they basically decided that Turkey’s modernist, Western-oriented identity required this, and that the AK Party had no other choice but to act in accordance with this identity, which it purported to take on. This presented a comfortable area of politics for EU politicians and obstructed them from creating a realistic policy on Turkey.
On the other hand, the period beginning with the Arab Spring brought with it a new wave of violence and instability in the Middle East and caused the appearance of the reality of divided states and the risk of sectarian battles. This situation brought with it Turkey’s development of policies prioritizing security, as a country bordering two divided governments in Iraq and Syria.
In such a situation, EU politicians, treating Turkey like Iceland, could not see Turkey as a rational actor and so were unable to develop a partnership with it. It was only after Europe understood the migrant problem as a serious threat to itself that it began to think that it might be able to bargain with Turkey again.
However, Turkey takes a real and holistic negotiation relationship with the EU as its basis rather than that of bargaining, and is acting naturally while keeping its own interests in mind.
Lastly, Germany thinking that it might be able to put Turkey in a corner through a resolution to recognize the Armenian genocide is completely irrational. Instead of establishing real and rational relations with Turkey in an environment in which the many active problems in the Middle East have globalized, regarding Turkey as an immature actor is nothing other than ideological blindness. This attitude obviously negatively affects Turkey. But it affects the EU and Germany even worse. I am of the opinion that the coming days will show this even clearer.