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Extraordinary turnaround in Turkish policy 26 février 2012

Posted by Acturca in Central Asia / Asie Centrale, Economy / Economie, Middle East / Moyen Orient, Turkey / Turquie.
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Voice of Russia, Feb 26, 2012

Kudashkina Ekaterina

Interview with Gareth Jenkins – a senior associate fellow with the Silk Road Studies Program and Turkey Initiative with Jones Hopkins University.

Mr. Jenkins, thank you very much for joining us. So, what are your impressions of the visit?

They talked mostly about trade and I think they expressed a desire to boost it, bilateral trade at the moment is 24 billion and they are talking about quadrupling it to a hundred billion. But of course the problem of course concerns China most is that Turkey has got a huge imbalance in trade. So, I heard they discussed how to try to boost Turkish exports but things are going to be extremely difficult.

Something they also touched but don’t went into details is whether there would be any cooperation with China on building a nuclear power plant. You know that Russia was going to build the first one in Turkey but Turkey wants a second one, so I think they also discussed that, conducted preliminary discussions. But mostly I think it was to do with the economics. And the two countries are far apart on the issues like Syria for example, so I don’t think that was really addressed very much.

Do I get it right that it is the first visit by Mr. Xi in his capacity as a future Chinese leader to Turkey?

If you go a couple years back, to July 2009, there was a lot of anti-Chinese feelings in Turkey because of the suppression of the unrest by the Uyghur minority in China, and then a Turkish Prime Minister accused the Chinese of genocide. So, relations were very chilly in mid 2009 and if you compare it with that – it actually gone off very well. And it hasn’t got a lot of coverage in a Turkish press because most of all what they discussed was economics which doesn’t get a lot of headlines.

But could it be that they really omitted discussions on issues like Syria or Iran for instance?

I think they seem to have skirted around them because when we look for example as the friends of Syria are due to meet in Tunisia and China is not going and China is also being opposed to some of the attempts of the UN to put pressure on Syria. And I think they were really just concentrated on the economic side and not gone into issues on which they were likely to disagree. I think the idea was really like this because Turkey doesn’t have a long history of close ties with China and in a situation at the moment whereby Turkey’s relations has got a little bit closer again with the West but it’s trying to establish itself really like more of a global power and it’s anxious to establish good relations with people outside the region. So, I think that probably they are mainly concerned with discussing issues which could bring them together rather than on the issues which could drive them apart such as Syria.

If we get to Syria, could you specify Turkish position on that because the signals which we were seeing in the press are quite contradictory?

What we saw is that in several authoritarian regimes in the Arab world, we saw an extraordinary turnaround in Turkish policy. Turkey worked very hard on getting very close relations with Bashar Assad and I think that they thought that they almost that in their pocket in the sense that they reestablished joined cabinet meetings with the government, then they have opened the border, polished visa restrictions, boosted trade and they really thought that they can tell him to do whatever they wanted him to do and of course he ignored them.

And you heard that Tayyip Erdogan say in one point last year – I have been to Syria, I’ve seen how much the Syrian people love al-Assad and then a couple of months later, you know, the disturbances increased and he turned against him. And I think a lot of that is due to frustration because they thought Assad really was their man and they see that his closest ally really is Iran. So, I think there is a lot of damaged pride beyond this very angry rhetoric that comes out of the politicians now but it’s also because it has been damaging their reputation because particularly Foreign Minister Davutoğlu before the Arab uprisings was saying that nothing happens in the region without us, and of course everything happened in the region and Turkey hasn’t been actively involved in having it happen.

So, there is a damage to their pride there but it was also economically damaging to Turkey, not just because of the trade with Syria, but because the trade was with a lot of the Middle East countries – Lebanon, and countries like that and to a certain extent some of the trade going into Iraq is to go through Syria. So, it has been damaging on a number of levels.

If we try to take a rational stand, what does Turkey stand to gain form toppling of Assad?

I don’t know how rational one should be, there is not much rational motivation because I think a lot of this is emotional. So, we gad this position when Turkey was trying to establish itself as the regional power and it had setbacks on the whole out of different fronts, you know, originally it supported Gaddafi. The only country where it backed the uprisings from the beginning was Egypt because it had bad relationship with Mubarak. And I think a lot of reaction on Syria is emotional. There is of course disquiet at civilian casualties but I don’t think that the only reason, that’s probably not the main reason. We haven’t seen the same sensitivity to civilian casualties in some other conflicts around the world, most notably in Sudan for example.

So, I think a lot of this is to do with pride and to do with emotion and of course Syria is right on Turkey’s doorstep. But, you know, when they began to put pressure on Assad, when they decided that he should make reforms in order to try to defuse the protests. The Foreign Minister Davutoğlu went to Damascus and told him that he had to make reforms and basically Assad ignored him and a lot of the people in the ruling AK Party in Turkey who developed close relations within Assad’s inner circle became marginalized and this of course coincided anyway with a change in Turkey’s relationship with Iran where the old rivals resurfaced, the rivals are always there but they resurfaced.

So, you’ve got this double impact of Assad not listening to Turkey and particularly Turkey’s Foreign Minister Davutoğlu’s pride that he was listening to Iran which has then emerged as a rival, so I think that was a double blow to Turkey’s pride on top of the disquiet at the civilian casualties. And of course they also worried about the refugees. Turkey remembers 1991 when a lot of Iraqi Kurds came to the border and this was a huge challenge for Turkey. And ever since the unrest started in Syria, there have been concerns that there might be mass accidents with the possible destabilizing effect on the region of Turkey if they come across the border. We have other considerations both practical and humanitarian but I think the main factor here is emotion and pride, and that’s why it’s probably a mistake to try to explain everything just purely in terms of rationality or real politic.

The way things are developing now it does seem that the situation is growing more and more tense. So, do you think that in such circumstances Turkey emerging as a next nuclear state would be a welcomed perspective by the West?

I think there are concerns that Turkey is at the moment is only looking at its nuclear energy. I think in Turkey’s case, at least it’s certainly sincere initially but there is a lot of speculation if Iran does develop a weapon then Turkey would probably try to go for one as well, but I don’t think it would do it otherwise.

Generally with the nuclear energy issues, even with first power plant, if everything goes as scheduled, it’s going to be some years before Turkey gets that. And I think, you know, what we are going to see over Iran is we see it to be heading towards some kind of conclusion whether it’s some agreement or whether it’s a military strike, and we don’t want a military strike, but it does seem to be heading towards something.

So, I think this Iranian nuclear issue will probably be resolved in way or another within the next one or two years. And Turkey hasn’t even got nuclear energy at the moment, so I think that will be resolved before we see what happens with the Iranian standoff, it will be resolved before Turkey is in a position even to think about developing nuclear weapons. But to be honest I don’t think anybody wants any more nuclear weapons in the region, we have already got some in Israel and potentially some in Iran, and I think the idea would be to have none at all.

Mr. Jenkisn, thank you very much. And just to remind you our guest speaker was Gareth Jenkins – a senior associate fellow with the Silk Road Studies Program and Turkey Initiative with Jones Hopkins University coming to us all the way from Istanbul.


Download the interview (MP3)


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