Every decade, every year, and even every day is important in a country’s history. However, there are strong signs suggesting that the next decade will be an exceptionally important period in Turkey’s history.
Within this decade, the question of Turkey’s accession to the EU will be resolved one way or another. It also appears that this will be the timeframe for the development of the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP), which is currently in the preliminary stages of conceptual preparation and aims to create a free trade and investment area between the United States and Europe in order to balance the Chinese center of gravity in Asia. The way the problem of accession between Turkey and the EU is resolved will undoubtedly have serious repercussions in the geopolitics of the Euro-Atlantic and Eurasia regions.
On the other hand, of even greater importance is the fact that Turkey’s immediate geographical surroundings seem to have entered a process of historical transformation. Syria’s future is still unknown. The resilience of the Baath regime in Damascus should come as no surprise, given the experience regarding the Baath regime in Iraq during the period that started with Saddam’s invasion of Kuwait in 1990 and ended with the American invasion of Iraq in 2003, especially since both regimes have similar power structures. We see that the Russian Federation returned to the political scene of the Middle East, contrasting with the period after the 1990s. A self-confident Iran and a rising China have also become major players. Despite these factors, however, the Baath regime in Damascus will sooner or later fall because of the annihilation strategy that it has been perpetrating against its own people. In the case of a further prolongation of the conflict or a lack of adequate planning for the aftermath of the regime’s collapse, consequent developments will have ramifications for the whole region. It is not difficult to foresee that depending on the direction of the developments, foreign powers supporting the regime will interfere with the process by proxy; in order not to forego their strategic interests in this region, they are already preparing locally for their own interests. Syria is open to all kinds of scenarios, including the continuation of the regime, the creation of a Nusayri entity in the Latakia region, or the total collapse of the Syrian state. It is highly probable that the geopolitical earthquake created by such possibilities will have repercussions for Turkey that go beyond the problem of the Kurds in Syria.
When we add to this picture the dramatic consequences of the American invasion of Iraq, it becomes clear that instability may easily spread even further. The legacy of the invasion consists of huge material and moral losses, an unenforceable constitution, and a state structure that fuels sectarian and ethnic conflict in the name of democracy. The incidents that began to unfold right after December 18, 2011, when the United States withdrew from Iraq, have only deepened Iraq’s instability. Prime Minister al-Maliki’s increasingly authoritarian and sectarian attitude has placed first the Kurdish population in the north and then the Sunni majority in the central region under centrifugal dynamics as they try to avert the Shiite clampdown. If the central regime in Baghdad does not give up its exclusionist policies for inclusive ones, and if it does not follow a conciliatory approach instead of an authoritarian one, it will not come as a surprise if the ethnic and sectarian rifts deepen and lead to de facto, if not de jure, secessions.
POSSIBILITIES AND IRAQ
What make an already negative situation even more dramatic in Iraq are the developments in Syria. Sunnis may come peacefully to power or the country may not be able to preserve its unity and the state structure may collapse completely. Either way the country that will bear the brunt of the outcome will be Iraq, since the sects and ethnic groups in Iraq have made the country more vulnerable to shocks and influences from Syria because of Iraq’s already fragmented status.
Iran plays an important role both in Iraq and Syria, which makes it necessary to closely follow this country’s policies and the role it strives to fulfill in the region that encompasses the Gulf. It is possible for Iran to use the sub-national forces at its disposal or its experience in the field to spread and fan the fire by means of the proxy forces it has formed since the Islamic Revolution. It is also quite possible that the quest for democracy and freedom will boomerang back to Iran as championed by younger generations. The leadership role played by the Iranian “Green Movement” in the developments of the so-called Arab Spring should be duly noted. In the background of this conflict evolving right before our eyes, there are other components of the “big game”: the politics of power and influence, as well as the energy concerns, of various world powers—including China.
For the first time, there have been some serious signs recently that the separatist terrorism in Turkey, which has continued since 1984 at huge material and moral costs, may come to an end. The terrorist activities of the last 30 years have caused material losses that can always be replaced, but more importantly, they have caused serious social harm. At this critical juncture, healing these wounds and solidifying national unity is more important than anything else. Another point to note is that if terrorism comes to an end and social peace becomes possible, this will happen thanks to those who died in the struggle to maintain the unity of the country. The families who have lost their children and the society at large will rightfully expect the public recognition of their sacrifice.
WE MUST BE STRONG
The developments shortly described above offer clues regarding the important changes that will take place in this region in the next ten years. Only countries with a strong posture will be able to withstand the forthcoming geopolitical earthquake and aftershocks and survive the turmoil without any damage. The geopolitical earthquake will most likely take place in the broad region encompassing the Balkans, the Northern and Southern Caucuses and especially the Middle East.
As long as democratic rights and freedoms continue to improve, rule of law and the social state structure advance further, the prospects of weakening sectarian, ideological fault lines and, eventually, their total elimination has become plausible in Turkey. In this process, it is our responsibility to trust that everyone born and raised in this geography desires to maintain in its unity. We also have to believe that it is our common goal to leave to the next generations a unified country where everyone lives in peace and respects each other’s roots, culture, faith, and ideas. It is true that the path is long and filled with risks; it is also true that regional developments make this road even more perilous.
To the extent that Turkey reinforces its national unity in the near future, and maintains its political and economic stability, it will be able to make up for the losses it suffered during the years of terrorism and make the welfare of its citizens sustainable. Furthermore, it will become an even more respectable member of the international community, face all threats and risks in this sensitive region and shoulder its regional and global responsibilities with renewed vigor.
Nowadays, as the character of international relations evolves, as social media lends transparency to all information, and as globalization becomes so widespread, the way to make ourselves internally stronger and deepen national solidarity is to hold fast unto the universal rules and values of the European Council, of which we are a founding member, such as democracy, rule of law, human rights, individual rights and freedoms, to internalize them, and to put them into practice.
In this historical juncture we are almost racing against time, and we must not burden the ongoing process of internal peace and solidarity, which are vital for our future, with extreme demands, hurtful declarations, polemics, and political calculations. Within this framework, governmental institutions as well as NGOs and the media, in short, all conscientious citizens have an important duty: it is now of paramount importance to differentiate between truth and disinformation, subjective and objective narratives, and to inform public opinion in line with the interests of the country in a level-headed and rational manner.