Roosevelt Institute | Cornell University

Anakara's Plummeting Relationships

By Pulkit KashyapPublished March 31, 2016

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Written by Pulkit Kashyap, 3/31/2016 With the recent car bombing in Ankara, it becomes crucial for Turkey to the current state of its international relations since the war in Syria began. Regaining former stability must be prioritized--if the Turkish government does nothing, it risks falling into an all too familiar and destructive cycle.
Turkey, once considered a pillar of stability in the Middle East, has been remarkably lacking in said stability for the past few years. This past weekend's Ankara car bombings marked the second terror strike in Ankara in as many months with last month's car bombings (also in Ankara). This  uptick in terrorism- from almost nil to one attack per month- coupled with accusations that Turkey has been working with the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant has begun to paint a dissonant portrait of a government that once was considered extremely pro-West with its incessant demands to join the European Union. Now, amidst growing concerns that these terror attacks may be indicators of failures in President Erdogan's leadership, I believe it is important to think about how else the government of Turkey in recent years has not only begun to deteriorate at home, but also in its relationships abroad.
Turkey's involvement with Syria has strained its relationship with its Western allies such as the United States. Turkey has been caught lying by its allies. Turkey really began its involvement in Syria when President Assad, the leader of Syria,  shot down two Turkish fighter jets that had trespassed into their airspace. Erdogan's government claimed that it was accidental, though this was later disproven by the North Atlantic Trade Organization's (NATO for short) intelligence. In fact, NATO was able to show that Erdogan had purposefully gone into Syria despite his claims otherwise. This was possibly Turkey's first lie in the civil war.  Another such case was with the UAV Incident of 2015. The Turkish government shot down a Syrian aircraft. The Syrian government stated that the aircraft was merely a UAV performing reconnaissance against terrorist groups, but the Turkish government claimed it was a helicopter. Unsurprisingly, the Turkish claim ended up being disproven and Erdogan's staff was heavily criticized for once again lying about an action they deliberately took against Syria. This situation casts a negative light on previous situations, such as the infamous March 2014 incident and suggests that the West cannot fully trust its supposed Middle Eastern ally.

Beyond simple lies, Turkey's relationships have also been deteriorating due to the counter productive international policy practiced by President Erdogan's government. In his visit to Ethiopia last January, Erdogan asserted that refusing to grant Turkey EU membership would be evidence of the organization's status as an Islamaphobic "Christian" Club. This heavy handed rhetoric was accompanied by his sentiment that Turkey does not actually need the EU. He states that if the EU does not take Turkey then Turkey can manage fine on its own.

This rhetoric starkly contrasted with past Turkish sentiment that was pro-Western and rather moderate. Moreover, Erdogan's refusal to budge on the issue of the Kurds has been another divisive factor in Turkish international relations.More specifically, I am referring to the refusal of his government to acknowledge the Kurdish groups fighting in Syria as non-terrorist entities as the US has. Erdogan has insisted repeatedly that allowing the Kurds to control parts of Northern Syria will lead to a Kurdish state where Turkish policy cannot be allowed. This has been extremely counter productive to United States military policy in the region, as both the United States and Russia have been actively arming the Kurds in their efforts to fight against ISIS.
The United States and Russian aircraft also assisted the Kurds in the Siege of Kobani during which time Turkey refused to help as they believed that Kobani has nothing to do with Turkey. Though critics have argued that Turkey largely refused to help because Kobani has a large Kurdish population which if allowed to maintain control could one day help make a Kurdish state.  Erdogan's stance against Syrian Kurds has continued into the current ceasefire talks with his refusal to accept the ceasefire created by Russia and the United States. He believes that the inclusion of groups such as the People's Protection Unit (YPG) and other Kurdish groups is wrong as they are, in his eyes, on the same level as ISIS. In fact, YPG officials and Russian ceasefire monitors have stated multiple times that the Turkish military has been shelling YPG territory in Northern Syria and allowing for militants to pass through Turkish borders to attack Kurdish holdings in the north. So on one hand Turkey claims to be helping NATO efforts in the region but on the other it is actively acting as a detriment.

Unsurprisingly, Erdogan's foreign policy has also culminated in some domestic blunders that have left the international community with a sour opinion of Turkey. For example, The Cumhuriyet incident which suggested Turkish military was supplying ISIS led to censorship against journalism and claims that the leakers were plotting to overthrow the government. Another leak which suggested that Turkey was plotting to use a false-flag operation as a cover up for an invasion into Syria was leaked onto Youtube which led the government to blocking the site for the entire populace.  The Turkish government's response to the Seige of Kobani also culminated in massive protests in Turkey which were responded to violently through tear gas and live fire. All of this has led President Obama to go so far as to call Erdogan an authoritarian, a very large turnaround from his earlier remarks about the moderate nature of the Turkish leader. Other European nations such as France have also voiced their concerns over Erdogan's domestic civil rights abuses.  

Now with more enemies amongst which ISIS, the Syrians, and Kurds are included, Erdogan has fewer friends with increasing hostility everyday  by some of his formerly staunchest allies in the United States, European Union, and Russia. If Turkey doesn't stabilize politically soon, then its deadly combination of authoritarianism, harsh anti-Western rhetoric, struggles with millions of refugees, and inability to prevent domestic terrorism may put it into the self destructive cycle that has ultimately led other Middle Eastern states into complete and utter failure.