November 29, 2021
Last week, twenty-seven migrants lost their lives trying to cross from France to Britain in an inflatable boat. Coming soon after the standoff at the Belarus-Poland border, the tragedy briefly caught the world’s attention. Britain and France started sparring over the incident and appeared to disagree on measures to be taken to prevent its recurrence. Phrases like, “lack of officers on the ground”, “securing areas”, “unseaworthy boats”, “joint patrols”, “traffickers” appeared frequently in the reporting of the incident and exchanges between the two capitals. Then, the top issue became Prime Minister Johnson making his letter to President Macron public before it reached its destination. This is understandable to a certain extent in the immediate aftermath of the tragedy, but only to a certain extent.
In a recent post I said, “In the past decade, migration has become the EU’s major headache. Underlying the problem are Western interventions across the Middle East and the failure of Middle East leaders to offer their people hope for a better future. During a trip to Central America, Vice President Kamala Harris underlined the importance of fixing the “root causes” of migration to address the surge of migrants at the southwestern border of the US. This is exactly what Europe needs to focus on in dealing with its migration challenge.”[i]
Their expectations to cross the Belarus-Poland border dashed hundreds of migrants have been flown back to Iraq. The Washington Post reported that the migrants were fleeing hopelessness. “There’s no life for us here,” said one, back home and facing the task of rebuilding his savings from scratch. “There are no jobs, there is no future.”
According to the International Organization for Migration, since 2014, 166 migrants have been recorded dead or missing in the English Channel and 22,930 have been recorded dead or missing in the Mediterranean.[ii]
Unfortunately for the people of the Middle East, theirs is a failed region. Failure means that leaders’ addiction to power, not a progressive agenda defines their future. It means economies in distress, endless allegations of corruption, nepotism, and cronyism. It means extreme polarization at multiple levels. It means falling trust in the legislative, judiciary, and executive branches of the state if there is any separation of powers. It means low standards in education. It means conflict, fratricide, becoming proxies in the wars of others. And it means more and more people seeking a new life elsewhere.
Today, more Lebanese live beyond the borders of their country than within. If the Middle East leaders were to remain on their current course, the urge for migration will continue across the region.
With the signing of the Treaty of Lausanne on July 24, 1923, Turkey’s one and only War of Independence fought against the victors of the First World War under Ataturk’s leadership came to a successful conclusion. Thanks to his reforms, Turkey united behind a secular, progressive agenda, and acquired a uniquely independent character envied by the peoples of the broad Middle East. Countries that were placed under the mandate system of the League of Nations eventually became independent states. However, their leaders who could not dare follow Ataturk’s footsteps took another path. And the ulema gave them a handy excuse: they said that Islam and laïcité are irreconcilable.
At the end of the Second World War, Stalin once again tried to revive Russia’s centuries-old designs on the Turkish Straits only to step back soon after. On April 13, 1950, Turkey became the 13th member State of the Council of Europe. On February 18, 1952, it joined NATO. Turkey always remained conscious of its obligations in these two leading Western institutions. Despite ups and downs it always returned to the democratic path. It remained a trusted member of the NATO Alliance. Nevertheless, it managed to develop a mutually advantageous relationship with the Soviet Union and then Russia. It joined the Organization of Islamic Cooperation with the proviso that secularism, a fundamental principle of Turkey’s constitution would remain intact. In 1974, Turkey intervened in Cyprus under the Treaty of Guarantee of 1960.
Last week, Vice President Fuat Oktay tweeted, “Under the leadership of our President, Mr. Recep Tayyip Erdogan, we are struggling with all our strength to carry Turkey towards a brighter future. We will never allow the dark scenarios written for Turkey to succeed.”
On Saturday, I took a look at the international new columns of the Washington Post. The top item in the World/Europe section was titled, “‘Afghan Girl’ from National Geographic cover, Sharbat Gula, evacuated to Rome, Italian government says”. And the top item in the World/Middle East section was titled, “Turkish lira plunges to record low as Erdogan doubles down on economic policy his critics call ‘insane’”.
So, should we now start worrying once again about the evil schemes of “external forces”, “foreign powers”, and “conspirators” who are determined to prevent Turkey’s rise as a major power? Or should we take the AKP government and its junior partner at their word for the claim that their resurgent “new Turkey” has thrown off the shackles of the past and has become a major power?