Developments that took place across the region, including in Palestine, Libya, Afghanistan, Cyprus and Greece, played an influential role in determining the 2021 agenda of Turkish foreign policy. Turkey also hosted several major diplomatic events, including the Antalya Diplomacy Forum, the summit of the Cooperation Council of the Turkic Speaking States and the 3rd Turkey-Africa Partnership Summit, with participants from all over the world.
In the first half of the year, President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan and Foreign Minister Mevlüt Çavuşoğlu met with their counterparts and representatives of foreign states and international organizations.
Çavuşoğlu addressed the ambassadors of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) member states in the capital Ankara on Jan. 6 for the first face-to-face meeting of the year. "We pay special attention to our relations with ASEAN, within the framework of the Asia Anew Initiative," he told participating envoys.
While many meetings were held online this year, like last year, Çavuşoğlu made his first international trip to Portugal and Spain on Jan. 7-8, where he underlined that Turkey will pursue a positive agenda, dialogue and diplomacy in its relations with the European Union, adding that Ankara appreciates Madrid’s constructive stance toward the Eastern Mediterranean conflict. Turkey and France were working on a road map to normalize ties and talks were going well, he also said, emphasizing that Ankara was ready to improve ties with its NATO ally if Paris showed the same willingness.
On Jan. 25, Turkey and Greece launched the first direct diplomatic contact in nearly five years in the form of exploratory talks to address their disputes related to sovereignty rights in the Eastern Mediterranean.
The two countries initiated exploratory talks to discuss the issues in the Eastern Mediterranean on March 12, 2002, in an effort to find a fair, sustainable and inclusive solution. The discussions that began in January were the 61st of their kind between the nations. Talks were regularly held up until 2016, but there had been none until 2021 due to political speculation and the Greek side's reluctance to sit down at the negotiating table. Bilateral discussions continued in the form of political consultations but did not return to the exploratory framework.
NATO members Turkey and Greece participated in deconfliction talks, initiated by NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg. Those meetings were designed to reduce the risk of incidents in the Eastern Mediterranean. The talks facilitated the establishment of a hotline between Athens and Ankara, allowing for conflict resolution at sea or in the air.
Turkey and Greece have been at odds on several issues. Turkey, which has the longest continental coastline in the Eastern Mediterranean, has rejected maritime boundary claims made by Greece and the Greek Cypriot administration, stressing that these excessive claims violate the sovereign rights of both Turkey and the Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus (TRNC).
Turkish leaders have repeatedly stressed that Ankara is in favor of resolving outstanding problems in the region through international law, good neighborly relations, dialogue and negotiations. Instead of opting to solve problems with Ankara through dialogue, Athens has, on several occasions, refused to sit at the negotiation table and opted to rally Brussels to take a tougher stance against Turkey.
While Çavuşoğlu continued his meetings in April, Eastern Mediterranean issues left their mark on the spring agenda. On April 15, Çavuşoğlu met with Greek Foreign Minister Dendias in Ankara. The joint press conference held by the duo after the meeting was the scene of tense moments that will not be forgotten for a long time.
The conference opened with conciliatory remarks from Çavuşoğlu in which he praised "the very positive dialogue" they just held in the Turkish capital. But Dendias used his opening remarks to rattle off a series of longstanding complaints about Turkey – from its search for natural gas in the Eastern Mediterranean, the Greek Orthodox minority and the sides' ongoing dispute about migrants.
"We have agreed to meet in Geneva at the end of this month. We will continue to work together to improve Turkey-Greece relations," the Turkish foreign minister said. Çavuşoğlu also added that Turkey believed that disputes with Greece could be resolved "through constructive dialogue."
"The only way to solve problems between Turkey and Greece is dialogue as two neighboring countries. We do not need third parties selling us ammunition or forcing us other ways," Çavuşoğlu said.
In return, Çavuşoğlu held meetings in Greece on May 30-31, where he again held a joint press conference with his counterpart Dendias. Turkey and Greece had initiated joint action and cooperation on tangible projects, Çavuşoğlu said, underlining that the two countries have agreed on 25 topics for better ties. Greece must refrain from using the EU as a trump card against Turkey and must embrace the positive momentum between the two countries, Çavuşoğlu also stated, adding that ongoing problems can only be solved through bilateral dialogue.
The 5+U.N. meeting, where solutions on the island of Cyprus were discussed, was held in Geneva on April 27 with the participation of the two sides in Cyprus, the three guarantor countries Turkey, Greece and the United Kingdom, plus the United Nations. Çavuşoğlu, who went to Geneva for the meeting in which the TRNC and Turkey advocated a two-state solution on the basis of sovereign equality, also inaugurated the new service building of the Turkish Consulate General in Geneva.
After the talks, U.N. Secretary-General Antonio Guterres stated that there is "no common ground yet" to resume formal negotiations on the settlement of the Cyprus problem. Cyprus has been mired in a decadeslong struggle between the Turkish and Greek Cypriots, despite a series of diplomatic efforts by the U.N. to achieve a comprehensive settlement.
In May, Turkish foreign policy was marked by Israel's attacks on Palestine. Following the protests that started with the Israeli Supreme Court's decision to forcibly remove some Palestinians living in the Sheikh Jarrah district of occupied East Jerusalem from their homes, Israel intervened disproportionately on Palestinians in the Al-Aqsa Mosque and the Gaza Strip.
Tensions in Jerusalem soared as Palestinians protested against Israel's restrictions on access to parts of the Old City during the Islamic holy month of Ramadan and after authorities ordered several Palestinian families to leave their homes to make way for Israeli settlers. As a result of Israeli air and ground attacks that started after the Israeli intervention at Al-Aqsa Mosque on May 10, hundreds of Palestinians lost their lives and the buildings where the offices of the international press were located were also bombed by Israel.
Israel began a campaign of airstrikes against Gaza; by May 16, some 950 targeted attacks had demolished, completely or partially, 18 buildings, including four high-rise towers, 40 schools and four hospitals. The attacks also struck the al-Shati refugee camp. In addition, at least 19 medical facilities had been damaged or destroyed by the Israeli bombardments. By May 17, the U.N. estimated that Israeli airstrikes destroyed 94 buildings in Gaza, comprising 461 housing and commercial units, including the al-Jalaa high-rise building, which housed the offices of The Associated Press and Al-Jazeera along with 60 condominiums. As a result of the attacks, at least 256 Palestinians, including 66 children, had been killed. As of May 19, at least 72,000 Palestinians had been displaced. On May 18, France, along with Egypt and Jordan, announced the filing of a U.N. Security Council resolution for a cease-fire. A cease-fire between Israel and Hamas came into effect on May 21, 2021, ending 11 days of fighting with both sides claiming victory.
Turkish authorities had intensified diplomatic efforts to put an end to Israeli aggression against the Palestinians as Erdoğan and Çavuşoğlu held meetings with leaders and made calls to international organizations. Following these calls, special sessions were held at the U.N. and the Organisation of Islamic Cooperation (OIC).
Known for its unbreakable solidarity with the Palestinians, Turkey has been voicing support for the Palestinian cause on the international stage for decades. Turkish authorities emphasize that the only way to achieve lasting peace and stability in the Middle East is through a fair and comprehensive solution to the Palestinian issue within the framework of international law and U.N. resolutions.
Erdoğan and Çavuşoğlu attended the NATO summit on June 14 in Brussels. Following their crucial meeting on the sidelines of the NATO leaders summit, the presidents of Turkey and the United States confirmed their willingness to restore strained ties and to increase cooperation.
"In our meeting with Mr. Biden, we constructively handled issues that we differ on as well as areas of cooperation. We agreed to keep Turkey-U.S. dialogue channels open just like how strategic partners and allies do," Erdoğan said after meeting with U.S. President Joe Biden during a closed-door meeting during the NATO summit in Brussels.
"We are going to increase our cooperation with the U.S. There is no problem between us that cannot be solved," the president told a press conference.
"We believe that cooperation between the U.S. and Turkey will contribute to regional security," he said.
Erdoğan also said that "a strong will" is evident for the beginning of an efficient period of cooperation in Turkey-U.S. relations, "based on mutual respect and interests in every field."
For his part, Biden said the meeting with Erdoğan was "positive."
The month of June drew attention with Turkey's hosting of two events in the field of diplomacy.
The southern coastal city of Antalya, where the Southeast European Cooperation Process (SEECP) meetings were held for the first time on June 16-17, also played host to the Antalya Diplomacy Forum on June 18-20.
The Antalya Diplomacy Forum hosted 10 heads of state and government, 42 foreign ministers, three former heads of state and government, and more than 50 representatives of international organizations or former government officials, according to the Turkish Foreign Ministry.
The international community failed to effectively manage the devastating impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic, Erdoğan said during the opening speech of the Antalya Diplomacy Forum.
World leaders attending the diplomacy summit in Antalya called for joint and fair action to tackle global problems, especially those that arose during the coronavirus pandemic.
Also during June, developments in Libya were discussed at the Berlin Conference. The Berlin Conference on Libya provided hope for stability in the war-torn country as nations committed themselves to the withdrawal of all foreign fighters and mercenaries and the U.N. special envoy welcomed the process.
At the Berlin Conference on June 23, Çavuşoğlu represented Turkey at the ministerial meetings before proceeding to Italy, where he engaged in a limited capacity on the Ministerial Meeting of the Global Coalition to Defeat Daesh held June 28. He informed participants about Turkey’s comprehensive fight against the terrorist group and underlined how his country found fault with other nations that used one terrorist organization in the fight against another terrorist organization.
During the second half of the 2021 agenda in Turkish foreign policy, developments in Afghanistan, the 76th U.N. General Assembly (UNGA) meetings, the opening of the new Turkish House (Türkevi) in New York, the G-20 Leaders' Summit, the Organization of Turkic States meeting in Istanbul and the 3rd Turkey-Africa Partnership Summit come to the forefront.
In the first days of the second half of the year, Erdoğan paid an official visit to the TRNC on July 19-20 upon the invitation of TRNC President Ersin Tatar. Erdoğan attended the July 20 Peace and Freedom Day ceremony, organized for the 47th anniversary of the Cyprus Peace Operation. Turkey doesn't have "another 50 years to waste" on the Cyprus issue, Erdoğan said, adding that proposals for a peaceful resolution of the issue are still on the table.
Every year the TRNC celebrates July 20 as the country's Peace and Freedom Day to mark the large-scale military intervention to protect Turkish Cypriots from the violence that struck the island in 1974.
The world was shocked by the Taliban's swift takeover of the government in Afghanistan during the process of the U.S.-led NATO forces' withdrawal from the country after nearly two decades. It took the Taliban just over a week to seize control of the country after a lightning sweep that ended in Kabul as government forces, trained for years and equipped by the U.S. and others at a cost of billions of dollars, melted away.
During the process, the Turkish government adopted a pragmatic approach toward the events. Underlining that new realities had emerged in Afghanistan, Ankara said it would move forward accordingly while keeping communication with all relevant actors open. The Taliban said they wanted international recognition but warned that weakening their government would affect security and spark an even bigger exodus of migrants from the country. Taliban officials previously expressed that they wanted Turkey to provide aid and support to the Afghan people. Turkey, a NATO member, maintained its embassy in Afghanistan after Western countries withdrew following the Taliban takeover and has urged those countries to step up engagement. At the same time, Turkey said it will only fully work with the Taliban if they form a more inclusive administration.
After the Taliban seized control of the country, Turkey also offered technical and security assistance to operationalize Kabul Hamid Karzai International Airport. Keeping the airport open after foreign forces handed over control was vital to keeping Afghanistan connected with the world and maintaining an uninterrupted supply of aid for distribution. Most recently, Turkey and Qatar had agreed to jointly operate the Kabul airport.
Faced with a new potential migrant wave due to the instability in Afghanistan, Turkey maximized measures on its eastern border with Iran. Turkey continued efforts to bolster the security of its border with Iran to prevent any migrant influx in the face of the recent developments in Afghanistan. The beefed-up border measures in Turkey, which already hosts nearly 4 million Syrian refugees and is a staging post for many migrants trying to reach Europe, began as the Taliban started advancing in Afghanistan and took over Kabul following the U.S. withdrawal.
Turkey has been a key transit point for asylum-seekers attempting to cross into Europe to start new lives, especially those fleeing war and persecution. Concerns arose over a possible spike in migrants from Afghanistan, due to the U.S. pullout from the country and the following surge of Taliban attacks. Turkey has made it clear that it will not bear the burden of the migration crises experienced as a result of the decisions of third countries.
A high-level delegation led by Amir Khan Muttaqi, the acting foreign minister of Afghanistan’s interim Taliban government, visited Turkey in October to hold talks with senior Turkish officials. This marked the first high-level contact between Turkey and the new administration in Afghanistan after the Taliban took power on Aug. 15.
Çavuşoğlu also attended the Crimean Platform Summit in Ukraine's capital, Kyiv, on Aug. 23. Turkey has never recognized the illegal occupation of Crimea and will not recognize it, he stated, underlining that Ankara supports Ukraine's territorial integrity. He also called on the international community to act as one against the annexation of Crimea.
Erdoğan and Çavuşoğlu attended the 76th United Nations General Assembly meeting in New York, which started on Sept. 21. In his speech there, Erdoğan once again urged a fairer global system and reiterated Turkey's hope for a more just world.
He also officially opened the new Turkish House, a 36-story building across from U.N. headquarters.
Later in the autumn, Erdoğan went to Rome to attend the G-20 Leaders' Summit on Oct. 30.
Erdoğan and Biden met on the sidelines of the G-20 summit in Rome and expressed their joint desire to strengthen bilateral relations that had been strained as of late, agreeing to establish a joint mechanism in that direction.
During the meeting of the Turkic Council Summit was held in Istanbul in November, the name of the council was changed to the Organization of Turkic States at the summit.
Çavuşoğlu announced that the name change was part of efforts to further strengthen ties between Turkic countries and future transformation.
Speaking at the foreign ministers’ meeting a day before the 8th Summit of the Cooperation Council of Turkic Speaking States in Istanbul, Çavuşoğlu said the council is undergoing a transformation project.
“We will strengthen our international power as we consolidate our unity without forgetting our roots,” the foreign minister said, adding that the council’s responsibility has also increased in the face of Asia’s rise in global politics.
On Nov. 24, Erdoğan hosted Abu Dhabi Crown Prince Sheikh Mohammed bin Zayed Al Nahyan (MBZ), as Turkey and the United Arab Emirates (UAE) sought to repair their relations and increase economic cooperation.
The visit by the crown prince, seen as the de facto leader and the force behind the UAE’s foreign policy posture, was his first official trip to Turkey since 2012, and the highest-level visit by an Emirati official since relations hit a low as the countries battled for regional influence and backed opposing sides in conflicts.
Turkish officials described MBZ's visit as the "beginning of a new era" following years of hostility after Ankara blamed the UAE for financing the 2016 coup plotters in Turkey and undermining Turkish interests in Libya.
In a return visit, Çavuşoğlu visited the UAE to discuss bilateral relations and hold talks with Turkish businesspeople in Dubai on Dec. 14, as the two countries utilized diplomacy to repair strained ties.
Erdoğan also paid an official visit to Qatar upon the invitation of the ruling emir of Qatar, Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad Al Thani, on Dec. 6-7 on the occasion of the seventh meeting of the Turkey-Qatar Supreme Strategic Committee.
Turkey is also engaged in an effort to mend its fraught ties through intensified diplomacy with other regional powers, after years of tensions. Erdoğan had reiterated that Turkey hopes to maximize cooperation with Egypt and Gulf nations "on a win-win basis." Most recently, Turkey and Armenia also initiated a normalization process amid cooperation efforts among countries in the South Caucasus.
The 3rd Turkey-Africa Partnership Summit was held in Istanbul on Dec. 16-18, and many heads of state and government and foreign ministers attended the summit. President Erdoğan and Çavuşoğlu met with many of their counterparts who came to Istanbul as part of the summit.
Turkey aims to win alongside Africa and march together toward the future, Çavuşoğlu said in his commencement speech at the third Turkey-Africa Partnership Summit's foreign ministers meeting in Istanbul.
Speaking at the closing ceremony, Erdoğan said, "We want to develop together and increase the welfare of our people together; thus, we attach great importance to the memorandum of understanding."
Erdoğan said Turkey and African countries agreed on a joint action plan for partnership in several fields, including peace, security, infrastructure and trade.
The 3rd Turkey-Africa Partnership Summit held in Istanbul adopted a joint declaration on Saturday. The declaration stated the parties are committed to further strengthening and deepening the cooperation in the interest of the states and peoples. They also committed to cementing their collaboration on current issues in the global arena, including health, peace, security, governance and justice. The declaration said the parties will focus on three main topics "peace, security and justice," "human-focused development" and "strong and sustainable growth."