Mohammad Pervez Bilgrami
Western liberals blame Turkey vehemently for sliding toward Islamism, while Marxists and Leftists level charges against Turkey invariably serving the US-NATO interests in the region and autocrats in the Middle East cussed Turkey for being too democratic and too liberal.
The attacks from the left, the right and the center forced me to ponder over the reasons as to why they are all so scared of Turkey. It was observed that the ongoing tirade of multidimensional propaganda, narrative building and media warfare against Turkey have their roots in the established powers’ fear and their apprehension -- the fear of the possibilities of an emerging new block under Turkey’s present self-reliant leadership, whose constructive role in humanitarian assistance and active diplomacy is now well-known to the world, though with envy from some established powers.
In the last few years, we have witnessed many sea-saws in Turkey’s relations with the US, Germany, France and Russia and also with their regional partners Egypt, Saudi Arabia, UAE, Iran on various issues ranging from civil wars in Syria and Iraq, Israeli atrocities in Palestine, Cyprus reunification, the Qatar embargo and the Russian occupation of Crimea. Turkey has been employing an independent foreign policy in all these disputes.
The established power centers in both the West and east know that there is a huge vacuum of upright leadership both in the Muslim world and in the developing world, which has long been exploited variously by these powers for many of these last decades. These powers also know that modern Turkey is the only country which has the legacy, capacity and the vision to bring together the countries of the Muslim Middle East and also other developing non-Muslim countries.
The US and some European countries hold a deep grudge against Turkey because today’s Turkey refuses to be part of their regional design. They are hell-bent on further dividing the Middle East into mini-states where Turkey stands strong as the most assertive regional power that understands their design and is set to thwart their divisive schemes. They have not been able to digest Turkey’s approach both as a soft power and its recent hard power projection. Turkish overseas military bases in Qatar and Somalia, its military presence in parts of Syria and Iraq and a recent deal with Sudan on Suakin Island in the Red Sea do not bode well for world powers and their partners in the region. All-out US support for the PKK’s Syrian wing, the YPG, in Arab land grabbing in Syria, sheltering Fetullah Gulen- the mastermind of the July 2016 defeated coup, tacitly backing the independence referendum in Iraq’s Kurdish region has culminated into a diplomatic crisis. Today’s Turkey no longer appears a partner with the US’ Middle East imperial agenda, pursuing its own diplomacy with a wide range of players and sending a clear message to US-backed regimes in the region.
On the other hand, the Soviet-style Russian propaganda against Turkey after the jet crisis in November 2016 is one such example. The maliciously false stories about Turkey supporting DAESH in the media outnumbered the murder and mayhem perpetrated by the outside powers in Syria and Iraq. It was not only the media campaign but also the personal attacks by Western and the Russian leaders, too, who appallingly blamed Turkey for supporting DAESH. The former US Vice President, Joe Biden, made a similar kind of statement, though he was quickly countered and forced by the Turkish President to withdraw his statement and apologize for the same. The Russian Foreign Minister, Sergey Lavrov, in various international events, reiterated his distorted opinion on Turkey’s support of DAESH, which forced his Turkish counterpart, Mevlut Cavusoglu, to challenge him to come up with proof and he would quit politics.
The counterrevolution led by the Saudi Arabia-UAE axis soured Turkey’s relation with the Kingdom and is still fluctuating after a bloody counterrevolution in Egypt and the misadventure of the Qatar embargo. Simultaneously Turkey’s relations with Iran have witnessed many ups and downs due to major disagreements on regional issues - from a high following a joint Turkey-Brazil agreement for a nuclear deal to a new low after the Arab Spring events. Iran’s sectarian policies, firstly at home, and later in Iraq and Syria, have limited its role to a regional Shia power; it has lost all credentials and legitimacy to lead the broader Muslim world.
Turkey is the only regional power which equally and vociferously opposes the brutalities of the Assad regime and the US-led Western and Israeli design of partitioning civil war-ravaged Syria. Turkey is actually at odds with both the Americans and the Russians in Syria, the former supports the PKK-YPG terrorist organization and the latter backs the brutal Assad regime in Damascus.
In the last few years, Turkey has emerged as the World’s second largest donor country after the US, and by far the largest donor in the world in terms of its GNP percentage. Turkey has spearheaded numerous massive humanitarian assistance programmes within and outside its borders. Turkey is hosting more than 3.5 million Syrian refugees and nearly a million more from other nationalities. Turks have created a benchmark of how to turn a failed state into a thriving country--in Somalia, through their devout and professional humanitarian assistance programme in war-ravaged Somalia. Turkish humanitarian aid has reached millions in Pakistan, Afghanistan, and Myanmar all the way to Magnolia. Turkey, once considered as the ‘Sick Man of Europe’ is now an assertive power with aspirations to create its own place in world affairs.
Due to all these factors, the powers who want to maintain the status quo in the region opposed Turkish military operations in Northern Syria. The US, France, Russia, Iran, and Egypt are deeply annoyed with the Turkish military operations in Northern Syria. The France, Iran, and Egypt have openly criticised Turkey while Saudi Arabia and the UAE remain officially silent but displeased, and the Americans are officially ambiguous but extremely apprehensive. Even though the Russians withdrew their forces from Afrin before the Turkish military operation, they later demanded the return of Afrin to the Syrian regime and withdrawal of all foreign forces from Syria.
It is very difficult for many Western powers to digest the fact that the new Turkey has 239 overseas diplomatic missions placing it at the fifth position, well above the countries like the UK, Germany, Italy, India, and Brazil. In the last few years, Turkey has emerged as a major player in Africa with new embassies and frequent flights by state-owned Turkish Airlines where western powers have been exploiting the resource-rich yet poor continent even after many decades of the culmination of their colonial rule.
A new confident Turkey is more open to its minorities, giving back the lands and foundations once confiscated by the State in the Kemalist era. The ethnic and religious minorities like the Kurds, Christians, Alevis, and Caferis (Turkish Shias) enjoy the most tolerant country in the region relishing the patronage of the State. Turkey is not only building and renovating mosques around the world but equally and enthusiastically rebuilding and renovating Christian churches and other places of worship. Recently President Erdogan and the Bulgarian PM jointly inaugurated the renovated Bulgarian Church in Istanbul, jointly funded by both countries. Today’s Turkey is by far the most tolerant country for all religious and ethnic minority groups in the region, yet the foreign powers level unsubstantiated charges to tarnish the image of Turkey, the biggest refugee-hosting country in the world.
Today’s Turkey is in such a pivotal position that neither the Russia-led Astana process nor the US-led Geneva dialogue can achieve anything meaningful to solve the Syrian crisis without the active participation of Turkey. The same can also be said in the disputes over Cyprus, Northern Iraq, and Qatar etc. All these positive attributes make Turkey an eyesore for the established powers who want the world to be run according to certain parameters and benchmarks set by them. Turkey is challenging the previous rules and conventions in world politics. Suffice it to say, the severe denigration of Turkey by the established power centers emanates from their fear of the challenge to their decades-long hegemony in the emerging global order.
In US sensitivity to and understanding of Turkish society, nothing has changed over the past 5 years
Rachael M. Rudolph joins Bryant Zhuhai as an Assistant Professor of Social Science in the fall term. Her research focuses on Sino-American relations, US-North Korean relations, strategic security in the Asia Pacific region, and transnational crime. She can be reached at: [email protected] M. Rudolph
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