BERLIN – The historic reconciliation agreement signed Saturday between Turkey and Armenia constitutes further testament to the positive changes undergone by Turkey in recent year. A government with an Islamic orientation was able to impressively promote two highly sensitive issues for Turkish public opinion: Recognizing the cultural rights of the Kurdish minority and normalizing ties with Armenia.
The strong sense of Turkish nationalism previously prevented any compromise with the Kurds, for fear this will open the door for boosting their national demands and in turn for a renewed territorial disintegration by Turkey.
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Tayyip Erdogan’s administration realized that it is precisely openness towards the Kurdish minority that will prompt a greater sense of belonging among them and weaken their aspiration to join other Kurdish areas, mostly in Iraq.
Erdogan faced a similar choice vis-à-vis Armenia: Perpetuating the frozen status-quo in the ties with Turkey’s neighbor would have boosted the global Armenian campaign for recognition of the massacre committed by the Turks as an organized and methodical genocide. Turkey would have been faced with all the possible implications of such recognition, especially if it would have also been backed by the US Congress.
Erdogan decided to preempt this blow, and while taking advantage of the weak Armenian economy (which suffered gravely as result of the closure of its borders with Turkey and Azerbaijan) managed to secure (with Swiss mediation) a reconciliation agreement that is difficult for both for the Turks and for the Armenians – yet postpones to an unknown future date the question of addressing the Armenian holocaust and entrusts future research on its scope in the hands of historians.
Deliberate disengagement policy
Erdogan managed to also improve the tense relations with Syria, in large part thanks to Damascus’ increasing isolation on the international stage ahead of Barack Obama’s elections victory. We should also make note of the tightening relationship with Tehran, after a long period of adherence to the position adopted by the West, which made sure to minimize its contacts with the Iranian regime.
The regional emphasis in Turkey’s foreign policy stems not only from tactical diplomatic and political considerations, but also from a broad strategic vision that wishes to position Turkey as a central and influential force, thereby improving its status in the slow and ongoing talks on joining the European Union. On the one hand, the Turks meet European demands, yet on the other hand they signal that they have options for other regional alliances.
It is difficult to ignore the fact that precisely at a time when Turkey reaches out to its past enemies, the Turkish administration is adopting an increasingly hostile policy vis-à-vis its former great ally – Israel.
This is clearly not another momentary emotional outburst in the face of Palestinian suffering in Gaza, but rather, a deliberate disengagement policy, which is also meant to undermine the status of the Turkish army – the greatest rival of the Erdogan administration.
Is Erdogan seeking to utilize the growing anti-Israeli sentiments and anti-Semitic feelings on the Turkish street, which is also being incited by radical religious elements closely affiliated with his regime, in order to create deterrence vis-à-vis nationalistic and secular forces fearing a religious takeover?
This will not be the first time where a Middle Eastern regime is exploiting Israel hatred in order to reinforce its domestic status and advance other issues. Such Turkey should not have a place in the European Union. If Israel’s security and existence are indeed important to the Europeans, they need to make this position clear to their Turkish interlocutors.