Turkey’s Metamorphosis

28 July 2015

The EU summit held in Brussels on December 17, 2004 decided that accession negotiations with Turkey would start on October 3, 2005. The process was accordingly launched at the Luxembourg Intergovernmental Conference.
This was two years after the Justice and Development Party’s (JDP) coming to power when “democratic reform” appeared to be high on the agenda.
In early April 2009 President Obama visited Turkey. He addressed the Turkish Parliament and referred to Turkey’s strong, vibrant, secular democracy as Ataturk’s greatest legacy.
Turkey’s contribution to regional stability was highly valued.
Six years later we still have the JDP in power but another Turkey.

“Democratic reform” has been replaced by “authoritarian tendencies” reflecting the disturbing weakness of our constitutional/institutional structures. The country is dangerously polarized. Internal and external policies lack foresight, transparency and public scrutiny. Foreign policy has turned into an internal policy tool. There is no consensus on what our national interests are.
EU accession process is dead.
A former US Ambassador to Ankara, Frank Ricciardone recently said in a forum in Washington that Turkey and the US have “shared interests,” rather than “shared values” and that we are “kind of stuck with each other”. Repetitive references by US officials to Turkey being a NATO ally, a member of the anti-ISIL coalition only confirm this disheartening assessment.
Turkey no longer enjoys the trust of regional countries. It is not perceived as a stabilizing force.
All of this offers invaluable material for scholarly studies on democratic experience in Moslem countries. For the time being, some analysts attribute Turkey’s metamorphosis to JDP’s lack of genuine commitment to democracy, its insatiable appetite for power. Some believe that misreading and mishandling of the Arab Spring turmoil was the beginning of the downturn. Others also fault the opposition for its inability to offer a credible alternative.
The trouble is that Turkey cannot afford to wait for such studies to guide us. Our challenges are real and pressing. Under the “epic Syria policy” we have willingly, knowingly become part of the Middle East chaos. We are neighbors with ISIL which is no longer just an external threat but also an internal one. İncirlik airbase is now to be made available to coalition aircraft for strikes against ISIL but the question “why not earlier?” remains unanswered. The never fully explained and understood yet supported “peace process” with Turkey’s own Kurds looks derailed. Terrorist attacks have resumed. Turkish Armed Forces are hitting PKK targets in Iraq. In a nutshell, we face war on two fronts.
The last but not least, nearly two months after the June 7 election political authority is still exercised by the JDP caretaker government, while a sleepwalking search for a coalition continues.
Turkey is at a critical juncture. It needs a government which can address the dramatic errors of the recent years and propose solutions in a way that befits a democratic country. It needs a government which can unite rather than divide; seek consensus rather than dictate; stand criticism; inspire confidence.
Alas, the political process remains stagnant. It is likely, therefore, that in the short-term at least, roller-coaster events rather than studied national choices would continue to determine Turkey’s fortunes.

About Ali Tuygan

Ali Tuygan is a graduate of the Faculty of Political Sciences of Ankara University. He joined the Ministry of Foreign Affairs in January 1967. Between various positions in Ankara, he served at the Turkish Embassy in Brussels, NATO International Staff, Turkish Embassies in Washington and Baghdad, and the Turkish Delegation to NATO. From 1986 to 1989 he was the Principal Private Secretary to the President of the Republic. He then served as ambassador to Ottawa, Riyadh, and Athens. In 1997 he was honored with a decoration by the Italian President. Between these assignments abroad he served twice as Deputy Undersecretary for Political Affairs. In 2004 he was appointed Undersecretary where he remained until the end of 2006 before going to his last foreign assignment as Ambassador to UNESCO. He retired in 2009. In April 2013 he published a book entitled “Gönüllü Diplomat, Dışişlerinde Kırk Yıl” (“Diplomat by Choice, Forty Years in the Ministry of Foreign Affairs”) in which he elaborated on the diplomatic profession and the main issues on the global agenda. He has published articles in Turkish periodicals and newspapers.
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