December 8, 2015
By Serkan Aydin for Fort Russ
Turkey’s adoption of a nebulous multi-polar foreign policy is a quite an intricate issue to interpret. As declared by Erdogan, the fundamental target was to have ‘zero-problem policy’ with the neighbors. However, it was well anticipated that this would be abortive and it did indeed. Being a NATO member, a nominee for EU, fostering an imperial nostalgia for Neo-Ottomanism and attempts to please China, Russia and Iran in a highly polarized world have been yielding its harsh costs for Turkey.
Despite the recent agreement between EU and Turkey over opening a new chapter, visa-free travel for Turks on condition that Turkey meets the requirements to alleviate the burden of Europe on migrant crisis, Turks are well aware of the fact that long cherished ambition of joining the EU is likely to terminate in utter frustration due to deeply embedded prejudged attitudes. Seeking no more expansion, constant pressure of Euro-skeptics, and UK’s possible leave, EU has been already on the brink of annihilation and embracing Turks seems to be a far-fetched issue opposed by many.
Europe is lucidly very vocal about it. So much has been said and published regarding the ideas that confront the admission of Turkey into the union. I think, the most notable one that casts light on the essence of this opposition is the outstanding book ‘A Bridge Too Far: Turkey in European Union’ by Philip Claeys and Koen Dillen who assert that the consequences of including Turkey would be incalculable as Turkey is part of the Islamic civilization devoid of European style democracy.
Enumerating the formerly stated well-known reasons that justify their stance, the most striking part of their book is Taki Theodoracopulos’s opening paragraph in the foreword of the book that sets the tone in his typically succinct manner: “Let’s not mince words. Inviting Turkey to become part of the European Union is the equivalent of a man recently married to a beautiful young bride inviting Don Giovanni to be his house guest during the honeymoon. The concept is more than stupid — it is suicidal.”
Such metaphor manifests the never-ending presence of Turcophobia for centuries on many terms. The term “Turk” has gained a meaning akin to “barbarian” or “heathen” in numerous European languages, or use “Turk” as a slur or curse. Contemporary anti—Turkism has a lot to do with orientalism and Ottomanism which ultimately failed. Surprisingly, Erdogan has been relentlessly in pursuit of reviving Ottomanism as neo-Ottomanism in a different agenda.
Re-construction of Ottomanism both at home and outside its borders has been a recurrent theme for Erdogan. Such attempt has led to massive havoc in his domestic policy. Once a prominent role-model for the whole Islamic world with its secular and modern constitution, Islamisation of the state and the culture by Erdogan polarized the Turks to an extent which is now impossible to fix. Re-establishment of Islamic banking, removal of restrictions on religious marriages, arresting secular journalists and bans on sale and consumption of alcohol and other threats to secular tenets have already culminated in an irreparable antagonism and constant conflict between conservative and secular sectors of society.
Destabilizing the harmony within, such attempts to revitalize Ottomanism also gave rise to remarkable problems for Turkey in its foreign policy. Turkey had undergone an axis shift drifting away from the Western world and turning back to its Ottoman roots.
While doing so, Erdogan defined the Islamic world in terms of Sunni faith and thus ignoring the presence of Iran and other minor Shia minorities.
It is a crystal clear fact that Persian civilization was always at odds with Ottomans and such rivalry has not vanished into the thin air. Turkey has also fallen out with Israel over Palestine issue and many times been vehemently criticized by Egypt for interfering with its domestic politics during the Arab Spring uprisings. Erdogan also did not take into consideration the fact that the West, especially the Anglo-American hegemony and France never totally abandoned their colonial aspirations in the Middle East and North Africa, thus neo-Ottomanism clashed with neo-Colonialism and had to bow down.
Turkey’s neo-Ottoman approach to the Balkans – one of the territories formerly under the Ottoman Empire rule has resulted in an insane amount of indignation in the Balkan countries and deemed as interference in their internal affairs. This has exacerbated the circumstances for Turkish minorities in the region who have been exposed to discrimination by the far-right formations. Turkey is also well aware that Russia will never make room for Turkey for its economic, cultural and political agenda in the Turkic republics in Central Asia.
Based on pure pragmatism and the concept of zero-problem with neighbors, Turkey’s multi polar foreign policy was also in a harmony with Russia and China. It generated a great deal of anger in the West when Turkey did not act in accordance with its allies to put sanctions on Russia, and agreed on the South Stream gas pipeline. Its revolutionary decision to purchase long-range anti-missile systems from China, even though they wouldn’t be compatible with NATO also was exorbitantly shocking for many but a bold step to counter the West.
Despite an intense history of conflict, at least 12 Russo-Turco wars, Russia and Turkey have been politically, culturally and economically on good terms which always angered the West. NATO has managed to spread Russophobia in the ex-Soviet countries and around the world through perpetual expansion and media propaganda, especially intensifying in the last decade. The attempts to isolate and demonize Russia gained momentum after the conflicts in Ukraine and Syria.
As an emerging regional power, Turkey endeavored and well managed to distance itself from a possible confrontation with Russia and one will never forget Erdogan’s statements to Putin during a visit to Russia in 2014: “Save us from the EU and help Turkey join the Shanghai Cooperation Organization” and Putin’s expression during his visit to Istanbul regarding the South Stream gas pipeline: “Erdogan is a very tough and reliable man”.
Turkey bowed under pressure from the West and its anti-Assad policy and ultimately made a lethal blunder by downing a Russian jet that even the major world powers would never consider. Erdogan has to bear in mind that championed only by some conservatives at home, neo-Ottomanism already became abortive and yielded to neo-Colonialism as before. EU membership is even not a speck over the horizon and Turkey has been clearly duped by sealing the deal to become a concentration camp for millions of deported and war-torn refugees, some of whom will inevitably pose immense threat to security and secular values of Turkey in the foreseeable future.
Above all, Turkey now has a rapidly escalating crisis with Russia in which compromise and concession are not anywhere close. As an unyielding leader, crisis and conflicts have long served as a foundation for Erdogan’s power, yet this time the case is tough and it seems like the rivalry with Putin will cost him dearly. Economic sanctions will definitely damage Turkey more. Turkey obtains 60 percent of its gas from Russia and has no alternatives. Tourism, already shattered by ISIS, will sink into an unavoidable crisis with no Russian tourists. Turkey will have to find new customers for its agriculture products and Russia already sealed the deal with Egypt and Iran. Turkish construction companies are no longer welcome and a visa-free regime has already been suspended. Russia was to construct the first nuclear energy plant of Turkey, but challenging the world’s strongest nuclear power might deprive Turkey of this too.
However, most importantly Russia has more sincere and reliable allies and has a concrete and predictable foreign policy, unlike Turkey, whose obscure, preposterous and perilous multi-polar foreign policy could bring the world to the edge of an inevitable war.