When I was asked by Daily Sabah's Batuhan Takış for a review of 2017, I didn't know where to begin. After all, 2017 was a year of oddities in diplomacy – a year when universal values were seriously undermined in the international arena. Over the past months, international organizations, universal values, liberal principles, human rights and the rule of law suffered major setbacks around the globe. To be clear, similar things did happen in the past. But what set the past year apart was the fact that – perhaps for the first time since World War II— worldwide lawlessness was considered so acceptable.
We learned the hard way that the "international community" would not take any action unless the national interests of a handful of countries were at risk. There are at least three cases, which made everyone feel that way. First, the plight of refugees. The ongoing wars in Syria and Iraq have directly affected the Middle East and Europe, as millions of refugees hit the road in an effort to find safety. Syria is a world leader in this area: Today, more than six million Syrian refugees live outside their country. Afghanistan and South Sudan are other major sources of refugees.
A considerable share of Syrian refugees lives in neighboring Turkey, whose efforts to provide decent living standards to the refugee community have set it apart from many other countries. Millions of refugees around the world continue to live under very dire circumstances. European countries, in particular, have failed the test of the refugee crisis. The governments of Germany, France, Austria and Greece, among others, which love to talk about universal human rights whenever the opportunity presents itself, shut the door on people in need with complete disregard for their suffering.
Throughout 2017, a number of news stories about the difficulties experienced by refugees across Europe have hit the wires. In Greece, the refugee community has been imprisoned, for lack of a better word, on a bunch of remote islands. Meanwhile in Germany, there has been an uptick in the number and frequency of attacks against refugee housing centers. Across the old continent, hatred towards war victims, who are merely trying to hold onto dear life, fueled Islamophobic, far-right politicians. In the Netherlands, Germany and Austria, right-wing extremist movements have enjoyed newfound popularity. Ironically, this latest trend in European politics forced other political actors, who claim to defend democracy and human rights, to follow suit. In the German and Dutch elections last year, election campaigns have been built on anti-Muslim and anti-Turkish sentiments. As such, 2017 was a difficult year for minorities across Europe.
A similar erosion of values took place in the international arena, as international organizations, treaties and diplomacy were replaced by mafia rules. A recent decision on Jerusalem by U.S. President Donald Trump, who turned his back on several U.N. resolutions, was a case in point. Let us recall for a moment how Washington threatened to take action against countries that would oppose Jerusalem's recognition as the capital of Israel in the U.N. General Assembly.
The long list of oddities also included the temporary detention of Lebanese Prime Minister Saad Hariri in Saudi Arabia. To make matters worse, certain countries brushed aside international law and diplomatic courtesy to openly cooperate with terrorist organizations. The United States continued to support the PKK's Syrian branch – the Democratic Union Party (PYD) and the People's Protection Units (YPG) – which do not hesitate to kill innocent civilians. In Raqqa, Washington endorsed a secret agreement between the YPG and Daesh, and proceeded to ignore mounting criticism against the deal.
At the same time, 2017 will be remembered as a year, when the liberal values that create the framework of the world economy took a heavy beating. Countries, including the United States, which claim to defend liberal values, have started using the economy as a diplomatic weapon. An ongoing economic war between Germany and the United States claimed several victims, such as Apple and Volkswagen, last year. Meanwhile, economic sanctions have been imposed on Moscow and the U.S. introduced a controversial travel ban against citizens of certain countries. Finally, an effort to punish Halkbank in an "Iran sanctions" trial in the U.S. was another example of how the economy was turned into a weapon.
Of course, we have certain expectations for 2018. It was good news for international law and humanitarian values that a draft resolution was introduced at the U.N. General Assembly thanks to Turkey's efforts in December 2017, which was overwhelmingly supported by countries around the world despite Washington's threats. The U.N.'s Jerusalem resolution marked a significant reaction by the international community against lawlessness and disorder. It established that a number of countries were disturbed by the world's general direction and the rising mafia-like order. Let us hope that the U.N.'s Jerusalem resolution marks the beginning of a new period, when international organizations will be empowered and a more just order will be established.