Turkey’s Minister of Foreign Affairs, Davutoglu, still defines the foreign policy of his country as ‘Zero problems with the neighbours’. But even though this approach quite well described Turkey’s international relations for the last couple of years (which you can read about in the article I published last year), by now it’s more of a state Turkey wishes to be in.
First there is Israel. Not a direct neighbour, but of course for sure one of the countries in the region that Turkey has had good relations with for decades, but thesehave been going downhil since the end of 2008, when violence erupted between Israel and the Hamas government in Gaza, when PM Erdogan harshly criticized Israel – remember the ‘One Minute incident’ in Davos?
But since Israeli forces killed nine Turkish citizens on the Mavi Marmara aid ship to Gaza last year, and especially since Israel stubbornly refuses to apologize for that, relationships hardly could get any worse. The Israeli ambassador had to leave Turkey and cooperation on a military level has totally ended.
Next: Syria. Not a country Turkey has always had good relations with – there have for example been border disputes – but the last couple of years things were getting better. Turkey and Syria even abolished visa requirements and people can travel freely between the two countries since 2010. Trade was expanding, tourism too. But the open borders now get a cynical new face: refugees from Syria came across the border and took shelter in Turkey. It’s hard now for Turkey to remain friends with the government in Syria. Impossible even. They urge Assad to step down, but till now in vain. Now Turkey supports the Syrian people – uncertain who they exactly are but it’s the best bet for a future of zero problems. A future where trade can thrive and grow again.
Third: EU. The negotiations have been going nowhere for some time now, but things are heating up before the Cyprus presidency of the EU, starting in July next year. In the last couple of months, several Turkish Ministers have stated that they’ll freeze relations with the EU during the Cypriot presidency. They don’t want to sit at the negotiating table with a country whose existence they don’t recognize.
In the meantime, in Cyprus waters the tension is rising too. Greek Cyprus wants to start drilling for oil, Turkish Cyprus (read: Turkey) says the oil belongs to both Greeks and Turks and Davutoglu added Turkey will “not accept any fait accompli. This must be understood by the international community”. The UN is still trying to resolve the Cyprus issue before Cyrpriot EUpresidency starts, but the chance of that happening, already not high, is getting less every day.
So zero problems with the neighbours? In Davutoglu’s dreams. Turkey wants to see itself as an influential country in the region, but it’s about time to start wondering how much power Turkey really has. Israel doesn’t apologize, Assad doesn’t step down, the EU doesn’t give one inch in the Cyprus issue. And what can Turkey really do about it?