Who are Turkey’s friends, foes?
Two developments that have taken place in the last few weeks are generating serious questions among Turkish people in regards to the reliability of Western countries in facing serious threats and challenges in the international system. These two developments have already generated serious skepticism among the Turkish public over the last few years; however, new developments are paving the way for the construction of one of the most difficult to resolve crises of trust in bilateral relations between Turkey and some countries in Europe and the U.S. As the citizens of a country that served as a frontline state in the fight against communism during the Cold War years, and as a country that became a major partner for the Western world in the fight against new types of threats, such as terrorism in the post-Cold War years, Turkish citizens now are feeling extremely disappointed and are also questioning the policies of its allies. In the medium and long term, this emerging skepticism toward some countries in the Western world may bring serious limitations and problems in relations with Turkey.
The first part of this problem is of course a result of the continuous and increasing U.S. support for People’s Protection Units (YPG) members in northern Syria. Despite reiterations by the Turkish government, the U.S. seems to continue its support for a group that is considered a serious security threat for Turkey. If the U.S. prefers to launch the Raqqa operation by supporting these groups, it is not clear what will happen to the now trained and equipped members of the YPG the day after Raqqa. The risk of giving verbal assurances without a plan to prevent possible threats to Turkey in the future is a hard proposal to accept at this point. Especially considering that continuous attacks by the PKK on Turkish citizens and security forces have already caused major damage. The confusion and disappointment of the Turkish people over this U.S. policy is rising and leading to very negative opinion of the U.S. and its policies in the region.
A second development is now taking place in some European countries due to several artificial restrictions by some authorities concerning political activities by Turks living in those countries. Events organized by various Turkish groups about the coming referendum in Turkey in April have been cancelled by European authorities in the last two weeks. Millions of Turks willing to be part of the decision in the referendum were shocked by attempts to curb their right to do so. The excuses that authorities provided to prevent these events are ridiculous. The Turkish public reacted harshly to this development. While in the beginning it was thought to be a decision made by a local authority, it seems to have become more systematic. Considering rising right wing populism in some European countries that entails increasingly anti-immigration opinions and Islamophobia and considering there are elections in several of these countries in the next few months, some people are trying to explain the restrictions to the political activities of Turks through domestic politics in European countries. This is a concerning development for all Europeans and different ethnic and religious minorities in Europe. In addition, it also seriously endangers relations with these countries specifically and between the EU in general and Turkey in the coming years.
These two developments are being closely watched by Turks, and in the coming days these two issues will be very significant in shaping politics in the region and bilateral relations. Further damage to public trust may bring serious repercussion to the future of bilateral relations.
This article was first published in Daily Sabah on March 11, 2017.