Turkey’s domestic and foreign policy is a mixture of rights and wrongs, self-esteem and hesitation, and swings between slowing down and speeding up.
When it slows down, a lot of valuable time is wasted to speed it up; but when that happens, it faces a multitude of risks that push it to slow down from over the speed limit. This picture is exciting, but tiresome. Unless a reasonable and acceptable level of predictability is achieved, speculation will get mixed in with wild theories.
Turkey’s ride, often along the cliff’s edge, has its worrisome moments. It has, for example, to do with Erdoğan’s over-the-top rhetoric. The latest exhibit of threatening behavior was noted the other day, when he fiercely lashed out at certain segments of the media for what he sees as “pro-Israeli behavior.” Certainly, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu would be much more subtle about Israel’s press, and Erdoğan should be warned that he is doing damage, rather than good, for the democratic atmosphere he pledges to strengthen. The press should be left alone to do its job freely and without fear. Honesty in the case of press freedom is not the same as loyalty.
The greatest dilemma for Turkey, its troubled judiciary and its government as of the summer of 2010 is how to get the house in order so that there will be a sort of positive symmetry between the driven foreign policy and the stalled domestic scene. Even if the latest moves on Israel and Iran help Ankara gain some positive points in the region, uncertainty looms over the issues of political reforms in general and the Kurdish issue in particular. They threaten, much more than the raised eyebrows across the Atlantic, the credibility, image and efficiency of the country before crucial political and economic actors.
Erdoğan is right in criticizing (some cynical actors of) the EU for turning its back on Turkey. The critical argument -- raised in this column as well on more than one occasion -- should be put in the context of the EU deliberately not shaping a firm “axis” on its eastern policies in order to make it understandable that what Turkey is allegedly “moving away from” has not really been there to begin with. As long as the EU is unwilling or unable to give a clear roadmap with a timetable for Ankara and remains distant to being inclusive of Turkey in its policy shaping vis-a-vis the Middle East and the Caucasus, there is very little point in whining about it acting as an independent actor with its face turned east.
But, President Abdullah Gül is also right when he pointed out that, although the EU is to blame for the “coma” in relations between Turkey and the EU, it is the primary duty of the Turkish Parliament to continue on the path of reform, with an unchanged perspective in sight -- full membership in the union. The fact that the EU is increasingly silent and Turkey louder and louder still about the stalemate is not helpful at all.
The domestic picture is very bleak. For the first time in the brief history of Turkish-EU negotiations, a six-month period is now steering to an end (under Spanish leadership) without any chapters having been opened.
Erdoğan’s government has been too distracted because of the strained relationship between itself and the defensive high judiciary, which means a lot of time was spent on the thorny process of taking parts of the military-tailored Constitution to a referendum. As a result, the reform process on the lawmaking level suffered deeply. Adding to the unfocused activities of the governing party to move ahead, the CHP remains unchanged. This week, the Constitutional Court, deliberating over the filing of an objection by the main opposition (on the basis that the new law is against the spirit of the Lausanne Treaty dating to 1924), will issue its verdict on the Law of Foundations. Lawyers of non-Muslim minorities expect a serious backlash.
As attention also focuses on the fate of the referendum, due to be handled by the top court in July, the increasing warfare of the southeastern provinces poses an escalating threat to social and political stability. It may be fair to say that the so-called “Kurdish initiative” is, despite claims to the contrary by the minister of the interior, dead -- at least temporarily. The closure of the Democratic Society Party (DTP) helped pro-Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) Kurds be more firmly entrenched around it successor, the Peace and Democracy Party (BDP). The Kurdish initiative, whose level was lowered, was damaged further by the open support (including praise of violence) of the PKK by Kurdish politicians. The operation against the Kurdish Communities Union (KCK), a local PKK network, and the recent, sizeable indictment of some 150 local Kurdish figures, 140 of whom face at least 15 years of imprisonment, are perceived by the Kurds as salt added to the wound. Meanwhile, a draft law softening the legal treatment of “stone throwing minors” is in Parliament, but its potential efficacy is also under question.
Increased PKK attacks -- following PKK leader Abdullah Öcalan’s new declaration of war starting on June 1 -- led to the deaths of security forces and may be seen as the PKK waging a desperate, meaningless battle, but there is much more at stake. The apparent failure of the government to deal with the Kurdish initiative now seems to serve a path to the “status quo ante.” It means we are close to a severe blow to all expectations raised last autumn.