President Donald Trump’s tweets on Tuesday attempting to mend fences with the Syrian Kurds arrived too late and did not improve the situation. Speaking through the spokesperson of the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF), the Kurds were clearly shocked by Trump’s decision to withdraw US troops deployed along the border with Turkey and stand by in the face of a possible Turkish military offensive in northern Syria.
In the past few years, Ankara’s foreign policy has been preoccupied with the Syrian conflict, the Turkish-Russian rapprochement and the growing rift with the West. However, Ankara has also been striving to build a silent but important strategy towards Central Asia.
According to Yalcin Hasan Basri, Lecturer at the Istanbul Sabahattin Zaim University, Erdogan's public support has increased due to the two-week-long protest. We have asked him what these protests meant for the domestic political scenario and his answers might sound rather astonishing.
Have the Gezi Park events changed the opinion of Erdogan’s supporters? How?
There is a fundamental misperception with regard to Turkey’s relationship with the Balkans. Turkey is not external to the region, the way Russia is for instance. Its history and geographic location make it a part of southeast Europe. Millions of Turks have their family roots in what was once known as ‘Turkey-in-Europe.’ This includes the founder of the republic, the Salonika-born Mustafa Kemal Atatürk. Ties run deep at the political, economic, and societal levels.
While Turkey is on its way to consolidating the shift to a presidential system of government, the country is facing a number of domestic and foreign policy challenges. Domestically, the economic crisis is a major threat to stability. As Turkey headed for important local elections on March 31, the economy has officially entered its first recession in a decade after years of sustained growth.
On the way to consolidate the shift from a parliamentary to a presidential republic, Turkey is facing a number of challenges in both domestic and foreign policy. Domestically, the main alarm bells for President Recep Erdogan come from the economy, which entered into recession at the end of 2018, with 20% inflation, 13.5% unemployment and rising costs of living, especially in food prices.
On December 16th 2016, there was an unusual – even by the post-coup attempt standards – police presence near the Cagdas art centre in Ankara. It didn’t take me long to figure out what was going on. On that evening, Andrei Karlov, the Russian Ambassador to Turkey, was shot by an off-duty Turkish police officer at a vernissage right there at the Cagdas centre. Even if there had been street protests over Russian involvement in the Syrian conflict in Ankara during the previous days, nobody could have ever anticipated such a tragic accident would occur.
Defining the nature of Turkish-US relations has become a challenge in itself. Although institutionalised and historical, these relations are suffering from an accumulated series of crises, an outdated framework, and diverging threat perceptions. A glimpse into the files on both countries’ agendas in recent years clearly confirms the nature of their relations.
US-Turkish relations have always been difficult to manage. But even in the context of a relationship prone to stresses and strains, the last few years have been extraordinarily difficult. Some of these frictions are structural, and some are the product of political dynamics in both countries alongside regional developments. The frictions may be managed. They will not easily be resolved. A relationship that both have reason to regard as “strategic” will continue to face tough tests.
Alliances and rivalries in the Middle East have become liquid. The proliferation of regional conflicts and a more acute sense of regime vulnerability across the region explain why realignments are more frequent and countries are able to ally on one particular front and be at odds on another one. In the past, alliances shifted but were far more consistent. Making sense of Turkey realignments is paramount to understand both the geopolitical shifts in the MENA region and tensions in transatlantic relations.