Turkey’s ‘new foreign policy direction’ might hamper efforts to solve the Kurdish question

Thursday, 28. January 2010     2 comment(s)
Johanna Nykänen
Research Assistant

In January last year Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan visited Brussels in an attempt to revive Turkey’s European Union accession negotiations. It was Erdoğan’s first visit to Brussels since 2004 and raised hopes on both sides that the flagging accession talks could be put back on track.

Erdoğan's rhetoric did not disappoint; he branded 2009 as a strategic year for Turkey’s EU accession process and described the recent launch of a national Kurdish TV station, TRT 6, as a kick-start of Turkish reform programme. Many hoped that a political solution to Turkey’s Kurdish question was finally at hand.

As the year went on, optimism about Turkey’s promised reforms began to wane. It seemed that Turkey was growing less and less enthusiastic about the prospects of joining the EU and was increasingly focusing its diplomatic efforts in another direction, towards the Middle East. Questions as to whether Turkey was moving away from the West, and about its relations with Iran, Syria and Israel began to gain prominence.

In his visit to Tehran in September, Erdoğan positioned himself explicitly on Iran’s side, defending Iran’s nuclear programme and repeating his now familiar views on Israel being the main source of conflict in the region. Strategic cooperation and trade relations between Turkey and Syria have increased significantly. Whether Turkey’s flirtation with its Middle Eastern neighbours is due to the Justice and Development Party’s (AKP) Islamist agenda, disappointment with the EU accession talks, or a new foreign policy strategy is an open question. But when it comes to solving the Kurdish question, the redirection of Turkish foreign policy is certainly not good news.

Both Iran and Syria are known for their repression of their Kurdish populations. Turkey and Iran are already conducting cross-border raids in the autonomous Kurdish-administered region of northern Iraq to combat, what they call, “Kurdish separatism”. These military operations impact severely on civilians in Iraqi Kurdistan with farmland and even houses being destroyed.

In October the Turkish parliament renewed its mandate to allow its military forces to cross the border into Iraq in its fight against the Kurdistan Worker’s Party (PKK). The strategic impact of these operations in fighting terrorism is often questioned. Another worrying sign of Turkey’s return to a less-than-friendly attitude towards the Kurds was the December closure of the Democratic Society Party (DTP) – the first pro-Kurdish party in the Turkish parliament in 14 years. The European Commission voiced concern over the closure, arguing that it might deprive a significant segment of Turkish voters of political representation.

Many feel that the potential of Turkey being a successful and democratic Muslim majority state in an otherwise volatile region, is not being realised. If Turkey chooses to create a stronger trilateral strategy of political cooperation with Iran and Syria to try to deal with the Kurdish question, it is highly unlikely that it will assume this positive role in the near future. Instead, it would mean a return to the not so distant past of internal fighting and external paranoia.

Texts reflect the opinions of the individual authors

Discussion (2 comments)

29.1.2010, Ernst Rudiger

Turkey is not turning towards a "new" policy direction, in fact the country is going back to its "old" Ottoman past, re-focusing on the Middle East.

This is in my view a very much natural move, as the country belongs to the ME for historical, religious and cultural reason. Turkey is Asia minor.

Next? Hopefully Turkey will abandon its bid to join the European Union and apply for the Maghreb Union.
It might have more chances...

5.2.2010, Michal Thim

Mr. Rudiger, with all due respect to claim that Ottoman Empire was traditionally focused towards ME is rather oversimplification as claiming that Turkey belongs to Asia historically, any country can choose where it wants to belong no matter its history, or you claim that some certain countries should exit the EU and apply for CIS membership because they used to be in Russian sphere of influence? With Asia Minor...it were Greeks who gave Anatolia name "Asia Minor" and after all what relevance it has today? Name is just name, nothing more...EU is political organization and not association of natural geography or historians.

Discuss the topic

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