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Strategic Defence Research Centre

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Turkish foreign policy in the light of migration

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As it was said on a conference held at NUPS on Turkey’s foreign policies, Turkey is a country of great leading potential in a unique geopolitical position, even if it is currently not living up to its possibilities. The participants of the conference organized by the Migration Research Institute and NUPS’ Strategic Defence Research Centre have discussed issues of crisis management, stating that the current agreement between Turkey and the EU is no solution to the problem of migration.

Turkey’s foreign policy is active and ambitious, but is drifting far on the international arena thereby turning the country from an allied partner to a problematic one in the eyes of the great powers – emphasized Péter Tálas  in his keynote speech. According to the dean of the Faculty of International and European Studies, the Islamist-conservative Justice and Development Party in power since 2002 represents an ideology that differs from the worldview of the international partners and for this reason the Turkish foreign policy has lost its former elasticity. The said ideology calls for the evolution of the Turkish society as well as Turkey’s foreign policy in order to become a dominant source of power in the world. Considering the given internal power relations, this ideology is expected to define the strategic objectives of Turkey for a long while – said Péter Tálas.

Tariq Demirkan, editor in chief of news portal Türkinfo pinpointed that the last 13 years have brought about numerous changes in the Turkish economy and the Turkish society which is the result of a planned, step-by-step progress. The paradigm shift has brought Ottoman imperial ambitions in which have autocratic characteristics in the domestic politics at the expense of democracy. For this reason Turkey receives more and more warnings from the Western Great Powers, making it is possible that sooner or later the current Turkish governance will lose the international trust it is built upon – said Tariq Demirkan. The editor also underlined the fact that while Turkey used to stay free from conflicts with the neighbouring countries in the past, today it “shares lawsuits” with most of them. Talking about the relationship with Syria we find an abrupt change, making foes out of friends in just one day. Another key area is the relationship with Kurds. Turkey aims to prevent the establishment of an external Kurdish state and cuts back on the internal Kurdish autonomy. “This struggle is not yet played; it will be one of the most pressing issues in the region in the upcoming years” – added Demirkan. The editor noted however that the failure of the Turkish policy is not their own fault only but the result of the international political events.

In relation to the observable changes in the Turkish domestic policy, Attila Joós, PhD student of the Eötvös Loránd University said: JDP is the only professional party in Turkey as it can use most economic and social issues to effectively strengthen its organization. According to him, JDP’s victory on last year’s early parliamentary elections was largely due to the fact of playing the so-called Kurdish card thereby intensifying the conflict between the banned Kurdistan Workers Party and the government. This tactic, however, cannot pay off in the long run – believes Joós. Among others, the PhD student pointed out that instead of being profitable, the events of the Arab Spring have become a burden for the Turkish after a while. A good example for this would be Turkey’s relationship with Syria: after years of friendship, Turkey has become the most important backup for anti-Assad forces. Nevertheless, the Syrian regime has not fallen which is difficult to overcome for the Turkish leaders.

Turkey’s geopolitical situation has changed a lot over the course of the last years, but the pursuit of safety in its foreign policy has remained – stressed Zoltán Egeresi, expert on Turkey at NUPS. According to him, the most important change is that a demand for strengthening the economy has appeared in the Turkish foreign policy. Investors have appeared in Turkey while new markets have been gained. These economic resources also serve a more ambitious foreign policy – added Egeresi. In the life of Turkey, the Middle East and the Balkans remain important regions as they are populated by Muslims. Their number reaches 8 million in the Balkans and many have moved to Turkey earlier. It is interesting to note however that Turkey is bound to Macedonia as well even if the latter is no Muslim-majority country – said the expert. Egeresi also stated that no one knows when and how the Syrian conflict can be resolved, but we might end up with a multi-ethnic state similar to Bosnia which is not favourable for Turkey.

Tamás Kozma, PhD student at the University of Pécs also talked about Turkey’s role in the Balkan region.  He revealed that the Turkish political-economic and cultural presence in the Balkans strengthened greatly after the second half of the years 2000, especially in the Muslim-populated areas. The Turks have established a number of cultural and educational institutions, and have played an active part in the Bosnian peacekeeping activities. Although Turkey has not been able to strengthen its presence on the markets of Western Europe, Turkish companies have remained powerful players in the banking, telco and construction sectors. According to Kozma, the country’s positive assessment is particularly pronounced in Bosnia and Albania.

It goes without question that the event saw a debate over the role of Turkey in relation to the current migration crisis as well. Tariq Demirkan voiced the viewpoint that the handling of refugees is perhaps the most important milestone of humanity. According to the editor, most refugees have left Syria because they had no other chance to survive. At the moment almost 3 million Syrian refugees live in Turkey, their groups scattered around the country. The solution lies probably neither in the hands of Turkey, nor the EU, but in tackling the Syrian war. The agreement between the EU and Turkey is just a case of temporary problem management and cannot be considered fully fair by either parties. In return for money, the EU passes the problem on to Turkey which uses this as a trump card when coming to Western relations.