Author: Abdel Bari Atwan
Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan is having a turbulent time of it these days.
He undertook a four day trip to Africa which has just ended, taking in visits to Uganda, Kenya and Somalia in an attempt to open new markets for Turkey to offset to the Russian boycott.
While he was away, the German parliament unanimously adopted a resolution determining that the Turkish massacre of more than a million Armenians a hundred years ago was ‘genocide’.
And Erdogan has only just got over the crisis generated by his sacking of his right hand man and architect of his foreign policy, Mr. Ahmet Davutoglu, who, as Prime Minister advanced a ‘zero problems with the neighbors’ policy, which brought Turkey prosperity and significant diplomatic influence. The crisis in neighbouring Syria, however, rendered that policy no longer plausible and, instead, Turkey now finds itself squabbling with virtually all of its neighbours and Erdogan himself trying to clamp down on any dissent, consolidate power to himself, personally, and repackaging himself as an Islamic ‘strongman’.
On Thursday, during a press conference in Nairobi, Erdogan spoke of the damage the German parliament’s decision would do to the two countries’ relationship.
Erdogan called out the Germans on their atrocious record of genocide. Not only the Holocaust of Jews, disabled and gypsies under Hitler, but the deliberate starvation, between 1904 – 1907 of ethnic groups in Namibia, which was part of the German Empire: well over 100,000 Herero and Name tribespeople died as a result. ‘Germany! I am telling you again: first account for your Holocausts… you are the last country to make judgements on genocide given your history of massacres.’
The Turkish papers – now largely state-controlled – were full of anger towards Germany and Angela Merkel in particular who was openly compared to Hitler.
Turkey has withdrawn its ambassador to Berlin but Ankara has apparently already decide to soften its outrage with the new Prime Minister, Ben Ali Yildirim stressing that Germany ‘is still a key ally and the relations between the two countries will continue’.
Erdogan also threatened to leave Europe to deal with the Syrian refugee crisis itself and withdraw all Turkish help and generosity in this regard (the country has accommodated almost 3 million migrants).
Yildirim will be fully employed attempting to extinguish the fires that President Erdogan has ignited over the past five years, rebuilding bridges with neighbouring countries and reconsidering the most inflammatory files, such as those on Russia and Syria.
Ahmet Davutoglu, who is now entirely excluded from government, may provide a route for a bit of backtracking by becoming a scapegoat for all Ankara’s recent political, economic, military and diplomatic disasters.
Yildirim displayed a tendency towards such a policy – as well as his obedience to Erdogan – in a recent speech to parliament outlining new government policy, which includes some retreats from its most radical stances and promised that his government will ‘work to increase the number of friends and reduce the number of enemies’.
On Syria, Yildirim emphasized a need to ‘stop this war’ which he called ‘absurd’, and made no mention of Turkey’s former, stubbornly held, precondition that Syrian President Assad must leave before any peace treaty could be signed off.
Norman Cortholmos, the Deputy Prime Minister, was even clearer than his boss; he issued a press statement in which he declared, ‘To repair relations with Russia, Iraq, Syria and Egypt will benefit Ankara in terms of commercial returns to the value of $36 billion.’ He added that he ‘saw no obstacle to the return of good relations with Russia’ and described the downing of the Russian jet last November which saw Russia break all ties and impose sanctions a, ‘A miscalculation by the Turkish pilot which should not spoil relations between the two countries.’ Observers have suggested that this may be a prelude to the apology demanded by Moscow.
President Erdogan wishes to change the Turkish constitution from a parliamentary to a presidential regime but such a step is impossible until internal and external stability is restored. The first stage of this process will require revising policy, admitting mistakes and working to correct them. Turkey is currently without friends in a region that is red-hot with war; more seriously, many of these turned into enemies because of wrong policies and alliances over the past five years.
From a historic position of alliances with both the US and Russia, Turkey now finds both superpowers supporting secession of the Kurds in Syria while he himself is battling Kurdish separatists at home.
Will we now see widespread revision of policy from Ankara to repair damage and reach out across the abyss surrounding it on all sides?
Or will Erdogan maintain his current stubborness and pugnacity?
Only time will tell.