About Pipe Dreams

January 4, 2017

After a violent year and minutes into 2017 Turkey hit world headlines. Again, the reason was a terrorist attack. And again, it was followed by the customary anti-terrorism ritual. Minister of the Interior visited the crime scene. Some other ministers made bland statements. A security summit was announced. A media black-out was imposed. Government members referred to “dark schemes to destabilize Turkey”, “our determination to remain united as a nation” and “our resolve to annihilate the terrorists”. Some media outlets, launched attacks against foreign supporters of terrorism including Turkey’s NATO allies. Yet, no one has yet stated why exactly those behind the scenes enemies of Turkey seem determined to undermine our internal peace and stability, economic progress, regional and global status other than referring to a “desire to prevent Turkey’s rise as a regional and global power”. Turkish politics favor foggy weather over sunshine, ambiguity over clarity and obliviousness over mindfulness. Some even suggest that we should now concentrate on the challenges facing us this very day and let history judge how we got here. Thus, they advocate ignoring the treacherous itinerary of our journey to Middle East’s world of chaos. This is absurd. Of course, we have to learn the lessons of history, be it from the long past or recent times, if we are to make  sound judgments regarding the future. And, we need to realize that bringing the murderer of the Istanbul massacre to justice will only signify a successful police operation and not resolve our polarization problem which is providing ground for violent extremism. As some analysts observe, this massacre may not be end of the story.

So, I would say for the umpteenth time that all our troubles began with the ruling Justice and Development Party’s (JDP) pipe dream to revive our Sunni Ottoman past and thus achieve regional dominance. The Arab spring greatly inflamed their passion. They misjudged Muslim Brotherhood’s coming to power in Egypt as a sign of an irreversible regional trend and engaged in regime change in Syria. They declared President Assad public enemy number one. This policy boomeranged. It multiplied our problems. To make a long story short, the current Russia-Turkey brokered ceasefire represents, more than anything else, JDP’s waking up from a dream-turned-nightmare by force of circumstances.

Unfortunately, there is no magic wand to make Turkey’s myriad problems disappear in a flash. There is, however, a way to control damage.

Firstly, on the internal front, the JDP should return to the democratic path by putting to rest, once and for all, its quest for a presidential system. This is not an easy task given that the country is too polarized for compromises and the opposition is of no consequence. So, strange as it may sound, this constitutional project may only be scrapped as a result of a surge in awareness within JDP’S own ranks. JDP leadership has recently declared mobilization to meet Turkey’s internal and external challenges. It has been saying since the failed coup attempt of July 15, 2016 that we are now fighting a second war of independence. Actually, the principal lesson to be drawn from our one and only War of Independence is that the way to victory is national unity. So, the JDP leadership should form a national unity government and start fighting the disease of polarization. Tweeted expressions of approval for the Istanbul massacre and newspaper articles criticizing its unqualified condemnation only show how grave the problem has become. Such an expectation, unfortunately, is another pipe dream. It is highly unlikely that anyone in Turkey is soon going to start writing a local version of President John F. Kennedy’s famous book Profiles in Courage (*). Nonetheless, the JDP has been in power since 2002 and the responsibility to ensure national unity beyond words lies with its members.

Secondly, on the external front, targeting the award for best actor in a supporting role with a good performance in “Syrian Peace” is a more realistic road to stardom than seeking the award for best actor in a leading role with the disastrous performance in “Regime Change Syria”. Therefore, the government should continue with its dramatic course change on Syria without burning bridges with Turkey’s traditional allies. Turkey needs friends not enemies.

Even if implemented, the foregoing will not resolve Turkey’s problems but they will create a window of opportunity for common sense follow-on measures. Moreover, we need to take into account the fact that our foreign and security policy mistakes have led to a serious economic downturn. The scrapping of the proposed presidential system and a reasonable Syria policy will boost confidence in Turkey’s future, rebuild trust and help the economy. None of this constitutes an innovative or earthshattering method of cure. But, it is conventional therapy the effectiveness of which has been proven time and again like a foolproof traditional recipe. Time is running out…


(*) Translated into Turkish under the title “Cesaret ve Fazilet Mücadelesi”.













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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