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Turkey’s role as mediator 8 mars 2009

Posted by Acturca in Caucasus / Caucase, Middle East / Moyen Orient, Russia / Russie, South East Europe / Europe du Sud-Est, Turkey / Turquie.
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The Diplomatic Courier (USA), March 8, 2009

By Jacinda Chan, Contributor

Turkey has improved relations with many adversaries but cannot succeed as a mediator because its foreign problems distract the country from focusing on mediation efforts.  Turkey however, practices what it preaches—dialogue solves problems.

Critics believe Turkey only cares about its reputation. The world carefully scrutinizes Turkey on its image especially for its bid for EU membership.  It is true, some believe politicians use international affairs to win public favor citing PM Erdogan’s recent Davos tantrum receiving a hero’s welcomes.

Israel and Syria

Although Turkey disputed with Israel over their offensive on Gaza claiming Israel committed genocide and crimes against humanity, Turkey continues diplomacy.  An Israeli Prime Ministerial official said, “Relations with Turkey are a strategic asset to both countries and we are interested that they remain as such.”  Turkey repeated they were not against Israelis or Jews but the government’s policies and anti-Semitism is a crime against humanity.  Turkish Deputy Prime Minister Cemil Cicek told reporters, “We give special importance to our bilateral ties with Israel and we want to preserve ties…” because as President Gul stated, “…Turkey’s diplomatic ties with Israel are important to the peace process.”  Turkey is one of the few countries in the Middle East to have strong diplomatic ties with Israel.  For diplomacy, Turkey asked Israel if they could buy defense equipment from them.  Although Israel made no decision, officials hope sales continue.

Iraq and the PKK

After a long dispute with Iraq, Turkey now works with Iraq to fight the PKK.  Turkey blamed Iraq for aiding the PKK—a Kurdish separatist terrorist organization using Northern Iraq to launch attacks against Turkey.  Turkey refused to talk to Iraq unless they stopped supporting the PKK.

Turkey wants a border security pact, opened border crossings, and began ongoing high level talks with Masoud Barzani—Kurdish Regional Government leader—and Jalal Talabani—Kurdish Iraqi president.  After devastating bombings in Turkey, Iraqi Kurds pushed for dialogue.  Iraq surrounded the Qandil Mountains—PKK headquarters.

These relations started because Turkey realized Iraq did not support the PKK, and the PKK wanted to separate Iraqi-Turkish ties.  A separate Kurdish state would never form.  Turkey decided to put aside their differences and talk to Iraq because it would be in the mutual interest of all.  Neither side could fight the PKK on their own.  Plus, Turkey and Iraq could counterbalance Iran.

Armenia and Russia

Armenia was Turkey’s major foe.  In September 2008, Armenia invited Turkish President Gul to a soccer game between the two nations.  Armenia’s only qualm about Turkey was that the latter refused to recognize the 1915 mass killings of Armenians by Ottomans as genocide, but Turkey closed its borders to Armenia in 1994 because Armenia seized Azerbaijani territory—Nagorno-Karabakh.  The soccer game led to ongoing high level talks resulting in an agreement between Armenia and Azerbaijan—a key relationship to Turkey and Armenia.  Armenia decided to return towns surrounding Nagorno-Karabakh and repatriate displaced Azeris.  “The administration of the Nagorno-Karabakh region will be handed to a provisional body and Kelbejer will be returned to Azerbaijan….The railroad and highway between Azerbaijan and Armenia will be opened, while an international peace force will be deployed at the border …” reported the Hurriyet.  Without censorship, Turkish academics even issued an apology to Armenians over 1915.

Turkey established diplomatic ties because they could put aside their differences.  Turkey thought Armenia would makes territorial claims, but the President promised not to.  Azerbaijanis are Turkish people’s ethnic kin, who Russia agreed to back in any agreement relieving Turkey.

Russia appeased Turkey, who forgot disagreements for mutual benefit.  If Turkey and Armenia—a strong Russian ally—were enveloped in conflict, Russia would intervene causing unimaginable problems.  Establishing diplomatic ties better guarantees preventing war.  Part of EU membership hinges on ties with Armenia.  Armenia can benefit by having a prosperous neighbor, ties to the EU, and Turkish imports.

Cyprus and Greece

Cyprus and Turkey have decided to open diplomatic relations mainly because Turkey cannot join the EU until they open their ports to Cyprus.  Turkey closed its borders to Cyprus in 1974 after Greece tried to stage a coup to overtake the island.  Turkish Cypriots in the North then declared independence, which only Turkey recognizes.  Cyprus is divided.  Greek Cypriots rule the south and are formally recognized by the international community as the legitimate government.

Turkish Cypriots claimed Greek Cypriots oppressed and slaughtered them until the 1974 coup.  After winning elections in February 2008, Greek Cypriot President Demetris Christofias began talks with Turkish Cypriot President Mehmet Ali Talat recognizing Turkish Cypriots as co-equals in a federalized government causing Turkey to encourage talks.  To remove Turkey’s occupation of Northern Cyprus and obtain a peace agreement, Greek Cypriots elected Christofias—connected with Turkish Cypriots—over hardliner Tassos Papadopoulos.  Because each side compromised for mutual benefit—Northern Cyprus suffers economic problems from an international embargo—each side has agreed on the federal and founding state plan with weekly peace talks expected to be concluded by fall.

Turkey’s drive to join the EU extends beyond ties with Armenia and Cyprus to improving their relationship with the EU.  The EU severely criticized Turkey’s efforts from the closure of ports to Cyprus, freedom of expression and speech, minority rights, and police brutality cases, but Turkey put aside all hard feelings.  PM Erdogan visited Brussels because reform constitutes “a strategic goal.”  Both Turkish and EU officials stated that Turkey’s membership benefits both.

Greece and Turkey will still not talk in spite Cyprus peace talks, which Turkey supports, because of the Cyprus issue.  Turkey and Greece disagree over the territorial boundaries of the Aegean Sea with Turkey harassing Greek ships because Greece tried to search for oil in territory Turkey claimed was theirs.  After the 1913 Balkans War, Greece gained islands in the Aegean some very close to Turkey.  Turkey—losing air and sea territory—became belligerent with possibilities of hindrances to military capabilities and oil prospects.

A Good Example ?

Like Turkey and Greece, Russia and Georgia refused to talk until appeased.  When Georgia tried to militarily retake the separatist region, South Ossetia, Russia launched a major counterattack going deep into Georgian territory.  The international community barely condemned Georgia but strongly criticized Russia.  Turkey—dependent on Russian gas, nuclear power plant financial support, and trade relations—had little bargaining power.  Georgia and Russia decided to talk only after both got compromises enabling them to set aside differences.  To ensure a fair solution, Russia wanted to include South Ossetia and Abkhazia, which Georgia did not want.  So, a U.S. envoy arranged an informal working group including South Ossetia and Abkhazia to address post-conflict security challenges and aiding displaced families.

Iran and the West’s situation over nuclear enrichment is similar.  Turkey tried to “facilitate” negotiations, but Iran insisted their nuclear program was peaceful giving them rights to continue.  Although Turkey was accused of partiality for having economic and cultural ties with Iran, neither side would talk no matter what Turkey did.  Ultimately, Obama’s willingness to talk to Iran—should they compromise on the nuclear issue and end support for Hamas and Hezbollah—may open doors.

Syria said their talks with Israel also depend on the new Israeli administration’s cooperation over the Golan Heights.  Talks have nothing to do with Turkey’s actions, who mediated four indirect talks between Syria and Israel before being suspended due to Israeli elections.  Foreign Minister Ali Babacan said, “They have big problems of trust towards each other, but Syria trusts Turkey, and Israel trusts Turkey.”  If Turkey only tries to fix trust, then Turkey has nothing to do with cooperation but just getting the two sides to express their demands.  Cooperation ultimately lies with the parties.

Israel blames Turkey’s strong condemnations of Israel’s offensive on December 27, 2008 on Gaza as the reason Turkey cannot mediate between them and Hamas, but Israel and Hamas have their own disagreements they could not set aside to talk.  Hamas wants Israel to lift their blockade on Gaza.  Israel would not do this because no one would prevent Hamas from smuggling in weapons, and Hamas kept sending suicide bombers to Israel during the Palestinian Authority’s reign.  Because of this blockade, Hamas shoots rockets at Israel.  Neither side would agree to meet the demands of the other.  So no matter what Turkey did, talks could not happen.

If every state put aside differences like Turkey to work for the mutual benefit of all parties, more conflicts could be solved through diplomacy instead of war.  Russia and Georgia succeeded, and Iran and the West could be well on their way.

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