An identity-based foreign policy in post-coup Turkey

It seems that explaining Turkey’s regional actions following the recent failed coup staged by part of the country’s military would not be possible without exploring identity-related developments in the country.

The rise, emergence and role played by three identity layers of Turkey, that is, Islamic, Turkish and European / Western layers, must be considered as the main driving force behind the country’s domestic and foreign policies. The Islamic identity layer has been an important factor in bringing Turkey close to Islamic countries and in forming Turkey’s friendship and hostility patterns with regard to other Islamic states, especially following political developments, which have been come to be known collectively as the Arab Spring.

The European / Western identity layer of Turkey has been playing an important role in Europeanization of Turkey within framework of the European Union and has also cemented this country’s ties with Western security and military institutions. The Turkish identity layer of Turkey has been, for its part, a major factor in constantly drawing Turkey’s attention to Turkish speaking countries in Central Asia and Caucasus and has also helped Ankara to maintain a certain level of interaction with Moscow.

Prominence of every one of the aforesaid three layers has been also an important factor in shaping Turkey’s regional orientations at three different time junctures: from rising to power of the ruling Justice and Development Party to the Arab Spring developments; from the beginning of the Arab Spring developments up to the recent failed coup attempt by the country’s military; and during the post-coup period.

Few analysts could be found who would not own up to Europeanization of Turkey’s foreign policy and regional policy from the beginning of the new millennium up to the start of the Arab Spring developments. In fact, during this period, due to prominence of the European identity layer of Turkey and prevalence of non-sectarian interpretations of the country’s Islamic identity layer, Turkey’s foreign policy became more Europeanized, while at the same time, its relations with all the Islamic states started to grow.

Following the Arab Spring developments, we witnessed a trend, which attested to disruption of the previous regional order and substitution of a new order in the region. This issue faced major regional players, including Turkey, with lack of certainty and complicated conditions, which called for new interpretations and actions. In the meantime, the Islamic identity layer of Turkey became more prominent during this period and a more sectarian and exclusive interpretation of this layer was promoted.

The collection of the aforesaid factors produced certain results among which one can mention increasing sensitivity of Turkey about expanding influence of Iran and Shia groups across the region; providing assistance to Salafist and non-Salafist groups in Syria to topple the country’s ruling regime; disruption of peace talks with Kurds and normalization of the Kurdish issue; increased pessimism toward the policies and goals of Western states in the region and subsequent lack of Turkey’s serious participation in the US-led regional coalition formed to fight Daesh; instability and fluctuations in Turkey’s relations with Russia; and finally, turning of Turkey into a geopolitically isolated country.

The developments that took place following the recent failed coup in Turkey should be also evaluated from the viewpoint of effects that every one of the aforesaid three identity layers has had on them. It seems that there is consensus that developments, which took place in Turkey following the recent botched coup, have increased pessimism of the country’s both secular and Islamist citizens toward the Western states. Under these circumstances, it would not be illogical to assume that the European / Western identity layer of Turkey would be undermined and the country would behave in a multidimensional and more independent way in its foreign policy.

At the same time, Ankara’s willingness for taking more advantage of the existing opportunities in Eurasia and expanding interaction with Russia could be a possible option. Of course, as said before, in view of the economic and political coordinates of Turkey, which are greatly Europeanized and westernized, and also due to remarkable security considerations related to Turkey’s membership in the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO), total withdrawal of Turkey from the Western axis would not be a viable possibility. For example, Turkey needs to interact with the West over such issues as the Syrian Kurds and the issue of Daesh.

Another remarkable issue is the possible strengthening of nationalism on the basis of Turkey’s Turkish identity layer following the recent failed coup. This issue is related to the need of Turkey’s leaders to cement national solidarity in the aftermath of the coup, recent developments related to the Kurdish issue, and possible coalescence of Kurdish geographical areas in Syria.

As for the Islamic identity layer of Turkey, it seems that a sectarian interpretation of post-Arab Spring developments is still overshadowing Turkey’s regional behavior. However, increasing concerns about the rising number of “failed states” in the region and worries about the “Kurdish issue” may prompt Turkey to adopt more pragmatic and responsible strategies with regard to developments in the Middle East.

Security and terrorist threats posed to Turkey as well as economic threats and social concerns about hosting millions of refugees are just a small part of the consequences of Turkey’s inattention to the necessity of respecting sovereignty of regional nation-states in past years, the direct outcome of which has been emergence of failed states in Syria and Iraq.

The Kurdish issue will also help Turkey’s foreign policy become more pragmatic. It seems that as the power of Daesh dwindles and Kurds lose their geopolitical importance, the Kurdish issue will turn into one of the most important factors affecting regional rivalries, coalitions and disputes. This issue is significant in that it seems Kurds are not willing to easily give up the historical opportunity offered to them by post-Arab Spring developments. As a result, the idea of the necessity of toppling the Syrian regime may lose importance due to the significant role that this regime plays in controlling Syrian Kurds. At the same time, increased interaction and cooperation between Turkey and such important regional countries as Iran is quite possible, because establishment of Kurdish nation-states is a red line for both Iran and Turkey.

By Iran Review