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Turkey’s dangerous dance with isolationism

Monday 22 October 2007, by Lale Sariibrahimoglu

It is true that Turkey has recently been suffering from its own mistakes on thorny foreign policy issues such as the Cyprus-related Turkish-Greek disputes and the Kurdish problem, as well as Armenian allegations of genocide.
Turkey has missed several opportunities to turn those issues to its own benefit.
But when we look at the flipside of the coin, it is also fair to say that Turkey’s interlocutors on the above-mentioned problems are also if not equally to blame.

On Cyprus, as senior European Union leaders have admitted on various occasions, it was a big mistake to accept the Greek Cypriot section of the island as a full member to the union in 2004 instead of encouraging the Greeks to accept the UN plan. This EU policy played a key role in the prevention of the advancement of talks with Turkey in furthering its democratic process, while causing deep disappointment among Turkish Cypriots.

On the decades-long Armenian dispute, the Turkish state has done very little to tell its own story of the World War I events, that the deaths of Armenians were not genocide, let alone convince the world. But the Armenian state and the Armenian lobby also failed to realize that a democratic Turkey can only benefit them. Instead they insist on playing with their people’s nationalistic fervor by intermittently feeding the genocide allegations.

On the Kurdish problem, Ankara has dedicated most of its time to the use of force in dealing with the outlawed Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) terrorists, neglecting the grievances of the region.

But neither the Iraqi Kurds nor the Iraqi government or even the US has taken serious steps to prevent PKK infiltration into Turkey of the group’s staging attacks inside the country. They should all have tried to cut the PKK’s lifeline in northern Iraq.

Despite policy failures, which have also been committed by Turkey’s interlocutors on all the above-mentioned foreign policy issues, those shortcomings do not currently prevent the danger of Turkey’s isolation from the world, which may possibly result in an inward-looking country in this strategically important part of the world.

Common sense ?

Unfortunately common sense does not seem to be currently at work in Turkey, from the media and the military establishment to the political leadership and the opposition parties, dangerously playing with the nationalistic fervor of a society in which anti-Americanism is at a peak and the invasion of a neighboring country is perceived as if it will remedy the terror problem.

Disunity among policymakers as well as among some state actors on both the critical issues of a cross-border operation and the Armenian resolution, which only contribute to an increase in nationalistic fervor, is not going to serve Turkey’s long-term national interest, which is to continue to further democratization efforts in all spheres of life.

All the policies currently being pursued by the opposition parties on the two critical foreign policy issues have centered on weakening the current government at a time when we need a national consensus to act in a cool and a responsible manner. Similarly the government has appeared to play into the hands of those trying to weaken it through the two critical foreign policy issues, despite the fact that both issues have the wider implication of a danger of isolating Turkey from the rest of the world.

It is time to realize that Turkey’s acting responsibly and with common sense will not only benefit the Turks themselves, but also those outsiders who see advantages for themselves from a democratic Turkey.

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