Turkey’s Distorted Priorities (2)

August 6, 2020

Merriam-Webster defines “crystal gazing” as,

“1: the art or practice of concentrating on a glass or crystal globe with the aim of inducing a psychic state in which divination can be performed,

 “2: the attempt to predict future events or make difficult judgments especially without adequate data.”

In Turkey, one does not have to concentrate on a crystal ball or read coffee cups to predict the future. Because everything is in plain sight. Data can be inadequate but more than enough to show basic trends. And, coming events cast more than their shadows before.

This is what I said more than four years ago:

“Turkey must have become world’s number one country for its failure to properly determine national priorities. We have witnessed a series of terrorist acts causing great loss of life. Wide scale military operations are continuing against the PKK with rising casualty figures. We have three million unhappy Syrian refugees. The future of the “refugee/visa deal” with the EU in which the government has invested a huge amount of political capital looks uncertain. Thanks to our grand strategy to redesign the Middle East, ISIL and al-Nusra are now our neighbors. Turkish foreign policy has lost direction. Our economy is facing serious problems some of which are related to foreign policy mistakes. We are facing internal and external security challenges. A state of lawlessness is gripping the country. And finally, we are dangerously polarized reflecting a deeper national identity problem.

“However, the top item on our national agenda is the issue of “political transition” (not the Syrian one, this is ours) from the parliamentary system to a presidential system alla turca. In Turkey “de facto” and “de jure” are now vague terms. We presently have a de jure parliamentary system but a de facto presidential system. It now seems that our de facto presidential system is going to be carved in stone and whatever constitutional inconsistencies which exist are thus going to be eliminated. This is the plan.”[i]

Four years on, our only “accomplishment” is this plan’s more than full implementation. The rest is a long list of worsening troubles.

We are now home to not three but five million Syrians. Number of Afghan “refugees”, including the Taliban, is on the rise.

We are militarily involved not only in Syria but also Libya at great cost.

The PYD/YPG has become Washington’s principal ally in Syria. In a strange turn of events, Ankara and Damascus have both slammed a contract signed between Syrian Kurds and a US-based company, for oil extraction, processing, and trade in Syria’s northeast.

Visa free travel to EU countries has proved a myth long before the pandemic.

Relations with our traditional allies are at their lowest point in decades. We have no friends.

Rhetoric has replaced diplomacy.

Global power is shifting, and we need to focus on securing our long-term interests, but domestic political interests have priority over everything else including foreign policy.

The economic difficulties we faced long before the pandemic have become insurmountable.

Assaults by ingrates on Ataturk’s legacy continue. Consequently, we are polarized as never before.

And, our democracy is in steady decline.

Moreover, like other countries, we are now supposed to be fighting Covid-19. The problem is international cooperation against the virus is dismal and people are suffering from exemption syndrome. IFF (identification friend-or-foe) systems of leading powers are sending conflicting messages regarding the disease. Weaponizing of viruses or vaccines is no longer unthinkable. In Turkey, public confidence in daily numbers of new cases and Covid-19 related deaths is waning.

Despite a gloomy global picture and many national challenges, our top agenda item for the past month was the opening of the Grand Hagia Sophia Mosque to Muslim worship.  On July 24, a crowd of 350,000 gathered in the area for prayers celebrating the opening. Social distancing was overlooked. Friday, July 31 marked the first day of Eid al-Adha, the Feast of Sacrifice. Having sacrificed a farm animal and made their traditional Eid visits to family members and close friends, people flocked to resort areas and beaches. Covid-19 could not believe its luck. The inevitable contradictions between fighting a war against an invisible enemy and energizing tourism to help save the economy are more acute in Turkey than elsewhere.

At some point, however, Covid-19 with its devastating blow to the global economy may turn into a useful scapegoat for Turkish government’s multiple failures.


[i] https://diplomaticopinion.com/2016/05/16/turkeys-distorted-priorities/


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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