Less than a month away from the Turkish General Election, there are a lot of speculations as to what the result of this election would be. Two possible outcomes have been most spoken about. One of which is that the Justice and Development Party (AKP) not only would win the election with a landslide, but also would wipe off the People’ Democratic Party (HDP) from the Turkish political spectrum. While the other scenario put forward is that the AKP would not be able to retain its current majority, thus would have to form a coalition with the Nationalist Movement Party (MHP) and would face Republican People’ Party (CHP) and the HDP in the opposition. What ever the result of the election would be, the Government or the Turkish Grand National Assembly (TBMM) will have to decide whether they want an internationally isolated Turkey that still suffers from its decades old domestic problems in the 21st Century. Or they wish to rebuild a Turkey that is able to take bolder actions in resolving its deep-rooted domestic problems and that can for the first time be the bridge country between the West and the East, promoting democracy and human rights in the region.
There are two core reasons for why the Turkish authorities must make that choice. The first reason is that Turkey’s most urgent domestic problems including the Kurdish problem, the Armenian issue and the state-centered political system have all been swept under the carpet for too long. The AKP governments have attempted to produce individual resolution packages for each and every domestic problem Turkey has, but they neither have been comprehensive nor been effective to solve the problems once and for all. Turkey can no longer afford to ignore its domestic problems, as the developments in the Middle East and North Africa after the Arab Spring proved that it is a necessity for Turkish authorities to act. The volatile situation in the region and the rise of Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS) provided an opportunity for the Kurds to take on an important and influential role in the region and act with the international community in the fight against the ISIS. In the meantime the AKP government adopted isolationist approach. It is critical for Turkey to decide whether it wants meet the demands of its Kurdish population or alienate them that can lead into the Turkish Kurds aspiring to join the other Kurds in the region who are gaining international recognition and prestige.
Domestic and international debates about the Armenian issue during the centenary of the Armenian genocide have showed that the Turkish state policy on the Armenia issue does not work and it needs a revisiting. It has now been 100 years that this horrifying atrocity took place under the Ottoman Empire rule and for over 90 years the Turkish Republic consistently refused not only to talk about this horrifying massacre, but also failed to admit that such a crime had been committed. Except when the AKP’s Tayyip Erdogan and Ahmet Davutoglu, the President and the Prime Minister, offered their condolences to the Armenian people about what happened in 1915 in 2014 and 2015. This gave to hope to the international community that Turkey’s approach on the Armenia might be beginning to change under the AKP’s rule. However there is not any indication that the Turkish state would either recognise this horrifying atrocity as genocide or would apologise to the Armenians. This obstinate state policy on Armenian issue must change, as the EU and the US have called on for genuine reconciliation between the Turkish and Armenian people and encouraged Turkey to open its archives, “come to terms with its past” and recognise the genocide. The newly elected the TBMM must do this so that Turkey is not subjugated by its past mistakes, and can move forward.
One of the fundamental structural weaknesses of the Turkish political system is the inherited political culture that centralises the political power in the hands of a single institution, be that an elected body or an unelected body. This is allegedly done in the interest of the unity and integrity of the Turkish state. Until the mid 2000, in the interest of the state the Turkish army held the political power and had a great influence over the media, the judiciary and the elected the governments. This however changed with the AKP government’s decision to reduce the army’s influence in the Turkish political system. What the AKP did not do is that change this inherited political culture as soon as the army’s role was diminished; it rather filled this vacuum by the AKP government. From the mid 2000 to date, AKP government wielded the political power and influence to control the army, the media and the judiciary to serve in the interest of the state. However the Turkish state’s interest were the interests of the AKP’s interests. By this political culture the most important tenant of liberal democracy that is the separation of powers has been violated throughout the Turkish political history. Particularly under the AKP governments these structural weaknesses have been deepened with Tayyip Erdogan’s authoritarian ruling style. The EU has criticised Turkey heavily over how influential the government has become over the media, the judiciary and the police and how undemocratic this is. The TGNA deputies must recognise that this is a very important problem for consolidation of democracy in Turkey and must take an action if they want to see Turkey part of the EU. Thus the necessary constitutional changes need to be made or a new constitution that is fed with liberal values should be written for a longer-term solution.
The second reason is that the choices and decisions made by the AKP government after the Arab Spring isolated Turkey internationally. Prior the Arab Spring, due to AKP’s religious background the Governments were treated with great admiration in the region for embracing successfully the Islamic values within a democratic and secular form of government. Turkey was regarded as a ‘model’ country in the region that was both looked up to and treated more than a bridge between the East and West. Ahmet Davutoglu’s multilateral foreign policy, which was founded on the principle of ‘zero problem with neighbor’, have also contributed to this perception positively. Thus Turkey’s ties with the Arab, the Middle Eastern and North African countries did get stronger. The EU and the US as a result applauded Davutoglu’s successful foreign policy, believing that Turkey’s revitalized relations with the Arab, the Middle Eastern and the North African countries would also be in their interest.
However the Arab Spring put all that hard work at risk. After reevaluating its relations with the region’s regimes, the AKP government quickly and passionately started to call for a change in the Arab Spring countries. They quickly severed ties with the Tunisian, Egyptian and Libyan regimes. Erdogan’s interest in forming alliances with the Muslim Brotherhood in Tunisia, Egypt and Libya made academics and journalists question Turkey’s multilateral foreign policy cautiously, raising a debate if and whether Turkey was turning its back on the West and given up on joining the EU. While Erdogan stayed close to the Muslim Brotherhood so to increase Turkey’s influence in the region and to make Turkey that regional power he envisaged, the Tunisian and Egyptian electorate did not prefer the Muslim Brother option. This meant that Erdogan’s strategy failed, as well as strained Turkey’s relations with the new governing powers in the Tunisia and in Egypt.
Additionally, the political turmoil in the region has contributed to the emergence of the ISIS that has become significantly influential in Iraq, Syria and Libya. Many European jihadists flocked into the Middle East and North Africa in solidarity with the ISIS. The Turkish Government has hardly criticised the crimes committed by the ISIS in Iraq and Syria and has adopted a relax attitude in relation to the ISIS jihadists using the Turkish borders to enter Syria. The AKP government’s position on the ISIS has put Turkey under the spotlights at the domestic level among the opposition political parties namely the CHP and the HDP and at the international level in Europe and in the USA. It has been asked if Turkey is deliberately helping the ISIS and if so, what gain Turkey has for taking such stance. This resulted in Turkey losing its hard earned reputable position in the region, its credibility among the EU member states and in the US.
However after the General election in June, the newly elected government and the opposition political parties can make choices and decisions that can change the direction of Turkey’s foreign policy in relation to Arab and MENA countries and eliminate the negative implications of these choices and decisions in Turkey’s relations with the EU and the US. The region needs a strong Turkey that can help rebuild it. Turkey’s geostrategic position must be highlighted and should be utilised to enable Turkish authorities to be influential in region, promoting democracy and human rights that can make Turkey a globally influential country.