What is Turkey's role in the new Middle East game?

Published 15.12.2015 00:51

Turkey is trying to exert its influence in the new Middle East game scripted by Iran, in which the most significant actors, including the U.S. and Russia, play roles. The first scene reflected the logic of profit maximization. The Arab Spring had just begun. Societal dynamics were pulling the strings to the direction of democratization while pro-Baathist and tutelary regimes were shattered. This also demonstrated the necessity of a new Islamic consciousness that could be meaningful in the global, post-modern world. And the only country that would enable this was Turkey, which is the direct successor of the Ottoman Empire and a future EU member. The Justice and Development Party (AK Party) government was representing a new conservatism that was becoming more individualistic and secularized in its mindset parallel to the extent that it was rising through an increasingly expanding and hybridizing middle class. It could not be known whether it was possible for the Middle East state structures to take the AK Party's Turkey as a model, but the tendency to take Turkish society as a model among Middle East societies was clearly observable. Consequently, the AK Party created a Middle East policy that directly took into account the expectations of societies by pushing the administrations in the region to the background. It attempted a tacit leadership in the long term by declaring at the very beginning that it would take responsibility in the name of other peoples as well.

It is hard to argue that Turkey is unsuccessful in terms of this aim. However, it is also obvious that the expected success could not be attained, either. The reason for this is the fact that no society in the Middle East could obtain the initiative and power to follow their dreams. While the Arab Spring evolved into a winter, administrations were restructured as military despots and an atmosphere of conflict became prominent. Even though Turkey did not have a relative disadvantage in this period, it lost its main advantage of acting as a moderate power. At this very point, the atmosphere of conflict led the outlawed PKK to adopt the strategy of forming cantons in Syria, which resulted in the organization's hampering the reconciliation process that was ongoing in Turkey. While the PKK was developing a strategy to unite its fate in Syria and Turkey, that came to mean the resumption of the armed fight in Turkey.These developments marked the second scene for Turkey, and the general approach inclined toward the minimization of risk this time. The dangerous progress in Syria needed to be stopped. The balances that would end the Syrian opposition and sustain Syrian President Bashar Assad's power needed to be changed. But more critically, a protected zone that would stop the refugee influx and secure the borders was needed. Moreover, the PKK's attempts to disrupt Turkey's stability and the DAESH threat needed to be hindered. As a result of these confrontations, the AK Party government adopted a defensive stance, and no unnecessary risk was taken in accordance with that. Also, no step was taken outside the knowledge and without the approval of coalition forces. The predominance of common sense and wisdom was waited on patiently.

However, incidents happened not in the direction of common sense, but in the opposite direction. When it became evident that Iran and Assad did not intend to annihilate DAESH, the U.S. attempted to pull the strings and Russia intervened in the game without asking. Its purpose was clear and unhidden. This marked the opening of the third scene for Turkey. The reality finally surfaced after returning from the world of dreams and fears. Turkey is now a significant and realistic agent in the Middle East again. Its targets, principles, allies and the possible limits of its actions are obvious. The basis of this new position is the motive of defense and protection. Although limited, the channels that would improve and reinforce Turkey's real power in the region through cooperation will be opened more explicitly from now on. Life has created a realistic middle way for Turkey in the midst of this big game.

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