BRANGET Dorine – The Impact Of 2015 Turkish Legislative Elections On The Turkish Foreign Policy
Budapest, June – September 2015
Turkey has been a republic since 1923. It has been a multi-party regime since 1950 but military held three coups, on 1960, 1971 and 1980.
Legislative elections are held every four years in Turkey. Turkish voters elect the five hundred and fifty deputies of the unicameral parliament, the Great National Assembly, in a proportional system (Hondt method).
This system was implanted in the 1965 elections, after the 1950 elections had been arrenged in the majority system. Turkey is divided into eighty-five districts.A candidate supported by a political party can only be elected if the party:
- has presented candidates in at least half of the provinces and one-third of the districts inside these provinces
- has presented two candidates for each seat in at least half of the provinces
- has obtained at least 10% of vote
- has received, in the constituency in question, valid votes at least equal to the applicable simple electoral quotient.
These rules are very restrictionary for small parties and minorities, therefore the Kurdish candidates have run for the election as independent for a long time.
The 2002 elections strongly changed the political framework. The AKP (Adalet ve Kalkınma Partisi – Justice and Development Party) has established himself as the first formation of the country. Its position was confirmed by the next elections as moderate Islamist and the party is ruled by Recep Tayyip Erdoğan. Mayor of Istanbul, he became Prime Minister in 2003 after its party won 34,2% of the votes during the 2002 legislative elections. The March 2004 municipal elections confirmed its leading position with 42% of votes. In July 2007, it got 46.4% of the vote in parliamentary elections. The party of Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan obtained 340 of the 550 seats in the Grand National Assembly, significantly more than the absolute majority. With nearly 50% of the vote and 326 seats, the AKP won its third parliamentary elections in June 2011.
The Turkish political left became deeply divided after the coup in 1980 and has never gained more than a third of the electorate (now just over 20%). It was dominated by two rival parties (CHP and DSP) that have never ruled together. For years, the DSP had prospered at the expense of his rival. The CHP took revenge in November 2002: since then, he represents alone the leftist opposition at the meeting.
CHP (Cumhuriyet Halk Partisi – Republican People’s Party) has represented the left against the establishment for a long time, but because of its participation in a lot of conservative governments from 1991 to 1995 it lost many activists and voters. In 1995, it crossed just the 10% and in 1999, with 8.7% of votes, the party founded by Atatürk was not even represented in the Parliament. In the late 1980s, it reached a score of 28% (1989 municipal elections). Its leader Kemal Kılıçdaroğlu, is trying to change the image now by advocating for greater democracy and recognition of cultural rights to Kurds. The CHP belongs to the Socialist International. The elections of November 2002 allowed a triumphant return to the assembly with 19.4% of the votes and more than a third of seats (178). With 20.8% in July 2007 (112 deputies), the CHP remains the largest opposition party. In June 2011, it rose (+ 5%) and got 135 seats.
Led by Selahattin Demirtaş, the HDP (Halkların Demokratik Partisi – Peoples’ Democratic Party) won 6% of the votes at the 2011 Parliamentary elections and approached 10% for the presidential election in 2014. Its program is the opposite of the ultra-liberalism and the Islamism, but also the opposite of nationalism that other political parties cultivate. The HDP had 29 seats in the outgoing Assembly from the last elections. But they had been elected under the independent label to bypass the mandatory threshold of 10%. These deputies had regained their colours and formed a group.
In the mid-1980s, the conservative parties represented over half of the electorate and more than 40% in the 1994 municipal elections. Undermined by corruption, it was seen its electorate stand either on the Islamists (in 1995 and 2002-2007), or on the right (in 1999). Both parties governed together only on very rare occasions.
ANAP represented right wing with more urban and liberal features, but it also included conservative currents from Islamist and ultra-nationalist circles before 1980. It is the party of the former President Turgut Özal. In 1983, the year of its foundation, it attracted 45% of the votes, it was gradually on the wane in favour of its rivals, and other formations. In 1999, it won only 13.2% of the votes, against 19.6% in 1995.
The DYP was conservative and traditionalist, it attracted rather rural electorate, despite the image of its leader Tansu Çiller who led the country from 1993 to 1996, and then allied with Islamists. The party founded in 1983 by Süleyman Demirel (historic leader of the Turkish right) attracted a quarter of votes in the late 1980s, it is no longer represented at the Great National Assembly.
Largely responsible, with the extreme left, for the violence of the years 1975-1980 (6000 persons died), the extreme right has been no longer represented in the parliament since 1980. In the elections of April 1999 it entered in strength with 129 deputies. Four months before, it had been invited to participate in the government by Bülent Ecevit. Its latest government shareholdings dated back to the late 1970s, with its alliance with Süleyman Demirel.
The MHP, (Milliyetçi Hareket Partisi – Nationalist Action Party) is an ultra-nationalist party with fascist tendencies and was founded (under another name) by Colonel Türkeş (the old leader of the Turkish extreme right who died in 1997). Its youth organization “Grey Wolves” is very virulent towards the Kurds and the Alevi religious minority. The ülkücüs (MHP’s activists) are numerous in the ranks of the administration, especially among police officers. Among former ülkücüs, one can mention Mehmet Ali Ağca, who attempted to assassinate the Pope in 1982, or Alattin Cakici, a notorious mobster imprisoned in France since 1999.
At the first secular, the extreme right now has more and more links with radical Islamist circles. Its leader, Devlet Bahçeli, wants to embody modern nationalism, but the MHP’s speech retains its xenophobic, anti-European and authoritarian accents. The party is very reserved in regard to Europe and continues to advocate the reconciliation of all Turkic peoples, from China to the Balkans. The MHP got 18.1% at the legislative elections of 1999, against 8.2% in 1995. It attracted many of the Islamist party voters threatened to ban, as well as people disappointed by the right. Devlet Bahçeli was the number two of the government Ecevit (1999-2002). The score of the 2002 legislative elections was 8.3%, the same result as in 1995, had made it leave the Assembly. With 14.2% of votes (71 deputies) in July 2007, he became the third Turkish party.
On 7 June 2015, Turkish citizens elected their five hundred and fifty deputies of the Great National Assembly; it was the 24th general elections in Turkey.
After analysing the results of these elections, we will see the impact on the Turkish foreign policy.
I. The June elections, the beginning of the AKP’s fall?
The issue of the elections
The election of June had many issues. Debates during the campaign were about the use of nuclear energy, civil rights, economy, foreign policy, corruption, the peace process with Kurdish people, or women and workers’ rights. Turkey is familiar with a hard period of economy stagnation, because of both international and domestic factors. Turkish economy is a way too much dependent on foreign investments and so vulnerable to external shocks and to the economic health to its partners.
The campaign for the general elections took place under poor conditions. Turkish people had to deal with bombing, corruption scandal, social divisions (Sunni v. Alevi, Turks v. Kurds, Islamic v. secular) and pressures on media. Lots of media groups are held by people closed to Erdoğan’s clan so their objectivity can be doubted. Aware of the subjectivity and the restriction of media, some citizens used social media, but government found a way to ban some publications. The social divisions lead to fear and cronyism.
Moreover, whereas Constitution decrees to the President to be neutral, Erdoğan threw himself into the campaign, supporting the AKP’s idea of a new Turkey.
The results, and its explanations
On 7 June 2015, Turkish citizens elected their five hundred and fifty deputies of the Great National Assembly; it was the 24th general elections in Turkey.
With 47,87% of the ballots, the AKP obtained 258 seats, the CHP got 132 (24,95% of the ballots), the MHP and the HDP obtained 80 seats each (with 16,29% and 13,12% of the ballots). As AKP didn’t obtain the majority (276 seats), it had to form a coalition for a government in order to keep ruling the country. Turkey has not seen a coalition government for thirteen years and AKP has never been in failure since 2002.
Compared to former elections, MHP and CHP got stable results whereas AKP lost votes and HDP won it. There are many reasons to explain the fact that AKP failed to obtain a strong majority and that HDP managed to exceed the needed -10% to be represented at the Great National Assembly.
In its political beginnings, AKP managed to develop the economy of the country; which can be a part of the explanations of its electoral successes at the 2000’s years. Yet, since few years, the lira has fallen, there is an increase of the private debt and economists perceive the beginning of a real estate bubble. The Turkish economy is on the edge of the abyss.
In addition to the economic aspect, two things can explain the results. The first one is the Kurdish issue; the second one is the Recep Tayyip Erdoğan’s wish of change the parliamentary system to presidency.
The fact that HDP reached to obtain more than 10% of the ballot and so to have deputies in the Great National Assembly was a big surprise of the election. HDP has become a game changer. During the campaigns, the party defined itself as a party that takes care of interests of all the minorities. His charismatic leader, Selahattin Demirtaş, has been nicknamed the “Turkish Obama”. HDP succeeded to make clear to Turkish majority that it doesn’t represent only the Kurds but also the entire Turkish population. With the entry of Kurds at the Great National Assembly, we attend to a huge change in Turkey’s history. Demirtaş succeeded to channel the Gezi’s spirit. He embodies a left, democratic and plural Turkey and achieved to extend his electoral base to all the forgotten of the Republic (Jews, Greeks, Syriacs, Armenians, feminists and even homosexuals). At the early 2000’s years, AKP inserted a dynamic that now goes over the party because of its conservatives and Islamists leanings. The fact that HDP got a good score at Istanbul (the favorite city of Erdoğan) by becoming the third party of the city is the good proof that AKP slows down social change whereas HDP shows its opening.
Besides, the fact that HDP enters into the parliamentary life, it brings questions about the Kurdish issue. Indeed, Demirtaş did a dangerous political gamble. Before, pro-Kurdish deputies used to stand as independent candidates and gather together as a parliamentary group once they were elected. The results of the 2014 presidential election (Demirtaş got 9,76% of the ballots) gave Demirtaş and HDP enough courage to stand as a political party at the 2015 general elections.
According to Demirtaş, standing as a political party is the only way to further the Kurdish peace process. After the failure of the “Oslo Process” – peace talks with the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) in 2009, relationships between PKK and Turkish officials were highly strained. Another rounds of negotiation were organized in 2013, unsuccessful as well. Kurdish side blamed President Erdoğan and AKP to be too authoritarian. The climax was the declaration of President Erdoğan stating that the Kurdish issue doesn’t exist in Turkey; it reminds of the denial policy of the modern Turkish state. Not only Erdoğan did and still do nothing when ISIS attacks Kurdish cities but he especially tried to prevent Kurds to reach Kobanî. It seems that Erdoğan paid his lack of support to Kurds persecuted by the Islamic State.
In addition to charging Erdoğan’s anti-Kurdish policy, Turks said no at its project of presidentialisation. General elections were not only parliamentary elections but also a kind of referendum for Erdoğan. President Erdoğan would like to pass a bill in order to change the parliamentary system to a system that gives more power to the President. To pass that bill without referendum, Erdoğan needed AKP to win 367 seats (two-thirds majority). If he convinces 330 deputies to follow him, he can hold a referendum, but current polls show that people are not in favour of a presidential system. It seems that they are afraid that Erdoğan transforms himself into a kind of a new Sultan. Even if AKP seems to be the winner of the elections on the paper, Turkish people said no to the autocratic aim of the historic leader the AKP.
While, CHP played on economic feature during the campaign, HDP based its campaign on the regime change; it seems there was a transfer of votes from AKP to HDP. This transfer seems to be strategic in order to counter the regime change. Here is the first part of our interrogations: is the HDP’s electoral base really stable? Is there anything else except of countering Erdoğan that unify HDP’s electorate? How will HDP reconcile its Kurdish base with its more city-dweller base?
The second part of our paper is about the future of Erdoğan. He is a charismatic character. His authoritarian personality trait charmed the electorate but now, his omnipresence in the society and family and religious life, adding to corruption allegation, is becoming more and more problematic. After a democratic period, Erdoğan has become more authoritarian. He personified the political power and used his position to make his party win. Because he was elected President through universal suffrage, he thought minorities have only the right to keep quite. His vision of democracy is too populist; people punished him. There is a real vagueness about the AKP’s leadership. Officially, the leader of AKP is the Prime Minister, Davutoğlu, but in reality, it is still Erdoğan even if he had to leave the party for becoming President of Turkey. Because of its personal commitment in the campaign, the elections’ results were a defeat for Erdoğan.
The burning issue that follows election is how AKP will manage to keep a strong position at the Great National Assembly. Because any coalition has been found, new elections will be held in November.
Despite all future possible scenarios, we are attending to rebalancing of power of the Turkish political landscape. This rebalancing will have consequences on Erdoğan’s future and the Turkish foreign policy. He dominated it as President and Turkey is becoming more and more isolated on the international stage because of Erdoğan’s wish to bring down Al-Assad, whatever that means. Turkey will have to change its strategy because it comes back to hyper-parliamentary configuration, the defeat of the presidential change means that the opposition will have a stronger right of control on foreign policy. The time of Erdoğan’s omnipresence in the political and social spectrum seems to be finished.
The election holding in November will give us some answers to our questions. Meanwhile, Erdoğan tries to protect his power, and in order to do it, use international events.
II. The foreign policy of Turkey: a Neo-Ottomanism?
The presence of Turks and Muslims in Eastern Europe dates back to the Ottoman Empire. Even if the Empire started to decline after a battle in Vienna in 1683, Ottomans still reigned on South-Eastern Europe and on the Balkan until the end the 19th century. However, they had to deal with nationalism and the European powers’ support for Balkan nationalists. Serbian revolutionaries gained their autonomy in 1817, the Greeks acquired their independence in 1829. Romania became independent in 1878. After the First World War, the Ottoman Empire was forced to sign the Treaty of Sèvres. After that, they developed what some academics call the Sèvre’s syndrome, making Turks to think that other powers always have bad intentions vis-à-vis Turkey.
Mustafa Kemal Atatürk tried to create a homogeneous Turkish state, wherein no ethnic minorities were recognized. He opted for Europe and modernization and neglected his Eastern neighbours. He had no interest for the nearest neighbourhood; and from a neutral position during the Second World War, Turkey became Atlantics. Threatened by Moscow, Turkey joined the NATO in 1952.
Ahmet Davutoğlu, the actual official leader of the AKP, wrote a book Strategic Depth (2001). Appointed as Minister of Foreign Affairs eight years later, he described in his book his policy of engagement as rebuilding ties around the former empire.
Can the Turkish foreign policy be described Neo-Ottomanism? Introduced by Cergis Cardan, the basic idea of neo-Ottomanism was that Turkey should pursue an active and diversified foreign policy in the region, based on the Ottoman historical heritage. By Neo-Ottomanism, we understand the fact to reconstruct an imperial influence that has been lost since the 20th century. Neo-Ottomanism also means being turned to East instead of Europe. Neo-Ottomanism means breaking with Kemalist legacy. The concept of the Neo-Ottomanism began to be used during the mandate of Özal as a response to the domestic challenge of ethno-national conflict with Kurdish separatists.
The concept has been taken up by Davutoğlu in his book. According to the actual Prime Minister, Turkey possesses a great geographical depth, thanks to its historical legacy of the Ottoman Empire. Turkey cannot wait any longer for the European door, so it needs to use its geographical advantages in order to develop a multi-directional foreign policy. Davutoğlu stated in his book that the value of a nation in world politics is dependent on its geostrategic location and its historical depth. Thanks to the Ottoman legacy, Turkey is at the crossing of several spheres of influence, the Balkans, the Caucasus and the Middle East; which makes Turkey a natural regional power and an international actor.
At the collapse of the USSR, Turkey had to deal with opportunities as well as challenges. With the end of the bipolar world, Turkey was afraid to see declining its strategic importance. The independence wars and conflicts in the Balkans due to the dismantling of Yugoslavia had a resonance on the Kurdish issue in Turkey; that’s why Turkey needed to defend the integrity of its territory and the Balkans’ population sought background of the United States rather than Turkey’s one. In the 1990’s Turkish politics towards the Balkans was cautions and the support to Muslim minorities was extremely limited. However, things changed when AKP took power, at the beginning of the 2000’s.
Neo-Ottomanism: what are the results?
The official policy towards the Balkan is really clear; the region is a priority, on a political, economic, historical and cultural point of view. In this regard, officially again, Turkey performs for the economic integration, the preservation of multi-ethnic and multicultural structures. Turkey also participated at peacekeeping missions through a civil (KFOR and EUFOR) and a military mission (UNMIK and EULEX). Turkey pays for mosques, and provides health care for poor Muslim people from Kosovo. It has an important place in the organization of the Black Sea Economic Cooperation.
Moreover, Ankara participates at all regional cooperation structure aiming to create a safe space; it shows us that Turkey wants to be considered as a country that is involved in the security of the region. Ankara organizes annual summits between Belgrade and Sarajevo in order to prevent reactivation of potential conflict between the different communities.
Actually, we can say that there are three axes in the Turkish politics toward the Balkans. The first one is economic (Turkey signed free trade agreements with all the countries in the region), the second one is diplomatic and the last one is cultural.
Turkey develops an active engagement in the regional political system in the Balkans and Transcaucasia. Nevertheless, is it an imperialist wish?
Using religion, Davutoğlu reassured Turkish population living in the Balkans. Spending the 2011 Ramazan Bayramı at Sarajevo, he stated: “we were here, we are here, and we always be here”. This sentence reinforced the statement of Erdoğan: “Turkey is Kosovo and Kosovo is Turkey”. Knowing these facts, we could say that Turkey uses soft power to spread Neo-Ottomanism. Turkey uses a geopolitical window of opportunities and the vacuum of leadership in the Balkans to exert an influence.
Besides, Davutoğlu developed in his book the policy named zero problem with neighbours. Whereas relationships with Bulgaria were really bad in the 1980’s – there was a strong anti-Turkish and anti-Muslim feeling – there are now bilateral trade and cooperation treaties on self-security were settled in the 1990’s. Moreover, Turkey tried in 2008 and 2009 to normalize its relations with Armenia by opening borders. In the 2000’s Turkey attempted to show at the international community that it is a country on which we can count and rely on, a country that maintains good relations with its neighbours. It also tried to normalize its relation with Greece.
Turkey is committed towards Central and Eastern Europe but Erdoğan took and still takes distance from the European Union. He looks disillusioned by the EU. Turkey shares the same resentment with Russia. Turkey and Russia are building ties together; there is a common nuclear power station project in Turkey and a common project of pipeline. Its links with Russia can be a burning issue. There is a strong Caucasian diaspora in Turkey who found asylum in the Ottoman Empire, feeing the Tsar. The Chechen war (1994-1996) was omnipresent in the Turkish media, and people found shelter in Turkey as well. Turkey is involved in some frozen conflicts, which can put in jeopardy its economic relation with Russia.
However, besides having economic relations, Turkey tries to involve Russia in the stability of Central and Eastern Europe. During the 2008 Russo-Georgian War, Turkey tried to position itself as a mediator, although it also failed.
In the light of these facts, Turkey seems to have multivectoral diplomacy, trying to be independent from great powers. Turkey refused the United States and the United Kingdom participating in the Iraqi war. Turkey is often seen as a bridge between East and West. But Davutoğlu wanted more for his country; he wanted it to be seen as central country, as a problem-solver by contributing to global and regional peace. This position can bring benefits but can also be a vulnerability factor. With Ukrainian crisis, Turkey is at the crossroads and in a delicate situation; it had to deal with its NATO membership and its tightened relation with Russia at the same time. Turkey was also in a delicate position with Russia when Crimea joined Russia because of Crimean Tartars.
It is the same with Syria. Whereas Erdoğan wants the fall of Al-Assad clan, Russia vetoes all measures at the United Nations Security Council.
Besides, we can go further and say that AKP fails in its dream of grandeur. Despite of its efforts, Cyprus is still divided, and protocols with Armenia have not been signed yet, because of the frozen conflict of the Karabakh. The fact that Turkey recognized Kosovo in 2008 complicated its relations with Serbia, and the Turkish proposition to be a mediator between Serbia and Kosovo has not been accepted.
At the end of the day, we can say that either Turkey follows a New-Ottoman policy or just tries to be regional power, it is a failure. Its zero problem with neighbour policy isn’t topical anymore regarding Syria and Egypt. Counterbalancing Turkish dependence vis-à-vis West countries by seeking alliances in order to maintain the balance of power in its region was removing from the game. Turkey maintains its cultural presence in Central and Eastern Europe, through an intense soft power but its power politics has to be relativized. Finally, Turkey has to deal with many other powers (Russia, Iran, Saudi Arabia, China, Japan, Israel) to fill the vacuum of leadership in Caucasus after the collapse of the U.S.S.R.
Despite losing all its historic international support, Turkey is more and more isolated inside its own camp, the NATO, within it used to be more influential.
III. The isolation of AKP: implication of domestic and foreign elements
During the Second World War, Turkey followed a strict independent and neutral foreign policy, in accordance with Kemal politics. Nothing predisposed Turkey to join the West side. However, the U.S.S.R put pressure on the Turkish Straits. Turkey asked protection from Western powers. It did in the context of the Truman Doctrine. President Truman wanted to contain the Soviet expansion just after the Second World War. In order to do that, the United States helped European countries financially, including Turkey and held a military and political organization. Turkey belonged to free peoples which should be supported. Turkish membership application didn’t reach the expected success in the European minds. European leaders were reluctant because integrated Turkey meant increase the application zone. Yet, Americans saw the geostrategic importance of Turkey. Turkey has a control on the Bosporus, and can close the Black Sea. Turkey is the gate of the Middle East. For all these reasons, the USA invited Turkey to NATO.
During the Cold War, Turkey was considered as a good Atlanticist student. It was a strong ally for both NATO and the United States. Turkey played with perfection its geostrategic function during the period and participated at all American-promoted alliances that took NATO as a model. It was either a border or an intermediary as a country at a crossroads of two continents and several historical zones of influence. Thanks to its Turkish allies, the United States had an opened-door to the Middle East and had some help to manage the Middle-Eastern problems.
However, Turkey can also be seen as a challenging ally. Turkey adopted a more independent foreign policy and initiated a detente with the USSR. Turkey got closer to Egypt and blamed Israel for the Six Days War. Relations with the United States became tighter and Turkey refused to open its base for the American weapon delivery for Israel during the Yom Kippur War and recognized the Palestine Liberation Organization. Thus, the Iranian revolution and the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan pushed Turkey to realign its foreign policy with Washington.
With AKP that taking power in the beginning of the 2000’s, the distrust against the Americans decreased. After the 9/11, Turkey was seen by NATO as a dam against the Islamist wave. Yet, disagreements with the United States remained. Turkey refused the crossing of American troops in their way to Iraq. Crisis was overcome by the logistic support Turkey provided to the coalition. This concerns the relationships between Turkey and the United States; but it also shows that the automatic Turkish support, as it was the case in the 1950’s, is definitely over. Turkey is not the good Atlanticist student anymore.
What kind of relationships do NATO and Turkey have in the current international situation?
Turkey and its relations with Kurds and Syria
Kurdish people are mostly Sunni Muslims. At this time, Kurdish forces control the Northern Iraq and the North-eastern Syria. Kurdish people also live in Turkey (the major part) and Iran. The Sevre treaty held the creation of a Kurdish state but after the victory of Kemal, the Lausanne treaty gave this idea up. Claiming the creation of a unify Kurdistan, Kurds are seen as a threat against the integrity in all states they are settled. In Turkey, the Kurdish Workers’ Party (PKK -Partiya Karkerên Kurdistanê) is founded in 1978. In 1984, its leader – Abdullah Öcalan- decided to initiate the armed struggle for the creation of an independent Kurdish state. Turkish military responded, and a policy of scorched earth in the south eastern Anatolia began. Many cease-fires were decreed, the last one was in 2012. Ever since, talks have been occurred. We will see in this paper that Kurdish relations with the Turkish governments are a tool to analyse the Turkish-NATO relationship.
Before the Arab Spring, Turkey had good and stable relations with its neighbours, due to the Davutoğlu’s so-called zero problem with neighbours policy. Revolutions have completely changed the political landscape and Recep Tayyip Erdoğan has become more and more isolated in the Middle East, especially after the fall of Mursi, in Egypt. Turkey failed in its attempt to become a regional power. Turkey had no choice but adopted a strong position against al-Assad, whereas relations between Erdoğan and al-Assad used to be more than friendly. In reprisal, al-Assad played the Kurdish card. It seems that the only purpose of Erdoğan is the fall of al-Assad. Regarding the Islamic State (ISIL) Turkey was often accused to let future jihadists jump over borders and to carry out an open-door policy. Erdoğan defends himself by stating that Turkish/Syrian border is difficult to control because of its length (900 km), but it seems that ISIL and Erdoğan share common enemies: Kurds and al-Assad.
The International Coalition fight against ISIL and the role of Turkey
The 5th of September 2014, NATO held a summit in Newport, Wales. Barack Obama suggested an international coalition to destroy the Islamic state. He stated that everything has to be done to organize the Arab world, the Middle East, the Muslim world to rally them at the rest of the international community to isolate the cancer. The international coalition is formed by nine NATO allies, the United States, Britain, France, Germany, Italy, Poland, Denmark, Canada, Turkey; and another one, Australia. The aim is to defeat ISIL but a red line was defined: “No boots on the ground”.
Even if Rasmussen (the NATO General Secretary at this time) stated that “we are not considering a leading NATO role in this operation. A number of NATO allies are forming a coalition that also includes countries from the region”; one can’t deny that NATO has a role to play in the fight against ISIL.
Turkey belongs to the coalition but played an ambiguous role. Indeed, Turkey asked for NATO’s help many times, and it is still the case. In virtue of the article 4 of the Treaty –that allows any allies to all for consultation if the security of them is threatened-, Turkey has benefited of a NATO’s PATRIOT (for Phased Array Tracking Rador to Intercept Target) deployment since January 2013. The aim of the mission is to reinforce the Turkish air force in order to protect the Turkish territory and citizens against threats posed by missiles from across the borders with Syria. But, surprisingly and paradoxically, Erdoğan refused the access of Incirlik NATO base to the coalition’s planes. One can assume that Turkey played a passive role because of its own vulnerable political situation. Fighting ISIL meant questioning the foreign policy and helping al-Assad, which is unthinkable for Erdoğan. Besides, it would increase the power of military, also an unimaginable thing.
Turkey has changed its point of view after the 20 July, when Suruç suicide bombing attack claimed by the ISIL took place. The attack killed almost 30 people. For the first time, Islamic state’s jihadists have focused on Turkey as a target. This attack and the death of a Turkish soldier through the jihadists’ attack at the borders pushed Turkey to react and give its passive role up. Turkey asked for another NATO meeting and states that “At the moment, Turkey has come under attack and its exercising its right to defend itself and will exercise this right until the end…but what we’re saying is that there could be a duty for NATO and we ask NATO to be prepared for this”. NATO supports the Turkish actions against ISIL, meaning the bombing of some ISIL’s positions. Stoltenberg – the actual NATO Secretary General – declared, “We stand all together, united in solidarity with NATO”.
Turkey won the moral support from NATO. It gave the United States the authorization to access to its Incirlik base. On the other hand, NATO didn’t make any comments about the Turkish bombing of Kurdish position, on 28th July 2015. Turkey insists on the fact that PKK fighters are a terrorist threat, so it bombed it in Northern Iraq. Only European leaders, as Angela Merkel, made comments about the subject, asking for a proportionate response against the rebels of PKK in order to preserve the peace process. The declaration of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs seems to destroy all hope about this peace process: “there is no difference between PKK and Daesh”.
Besides, Turkey didn’t ask for any extra military assistance during the NATO meeting. Turkey’s army is one of the eleven most powerful militaries in the world and Erdoğan emphasised “ Turkish military alone would be able to protect the country’s borders from ISIS jihadist”.
Then Turkey concluded a bilateral agreement with the United States, in which NATO has nothing to do. For allowing the use of the NATO Turkish base, Turkey beneficiates the deployment of six F16 fighting Falcon jets to Turkey to help NATO in the fight against ISIL and 300 airmen to help to support Operation Inherent Resolve and the establishment of a no-fly zone over Syria and a security zone along the border that would be dared on the ISIL presence and turned into a secure zone for Syrian refugees to return.
For the time being, it is really hard to analyse the Turkish foreign policy. On one hand, it asked for the NATO political support to cover its back regarding the international law since it has not asked for military support. On the other hand, it didn’t ask for an extra military support from NATO but concluded an agreement with the United States that provides military support to Turkey.
Besides, Turkey bombs Kurdish position whereas Kurds are an ally with NATO in the fight against ISIL. What is Turkey looking for? Erdoğan seems to take distance NATO while remaining close to the United State. What will be the consequences of these bombing on the ground? One can imagine that maybe it will change relations between Kurdish rebels and NATO.
Also, one doesn’t have to forget the domestic factor. Erdoğan has to deal with the rise of the Kurdish political party, the HDP, and struggle to form a new government. Do June elections have something to do with the current strong position against Kurdish position in Iraq? Maybe Erdoğan is looking for a way to weaken the HDP through its war against ISIL.
Until now, the only thing Erdoğan succeeded is to blow up its country. One can’t not say if it a will in order to change the political change on the go or not. The only sure thing is that the PKK prepares itself to be on the war, and the country is exploding. The results of the ongoing elections are more than unpredictable, so is Erdoğan behaviour as long as he has power.
• Academic books
136th Bergedorf Round Table, Turkey as a partner for European Foreign Policy in the Middle East, Istanbul, Bergedorfer Gesprächskreis, 2007.
ALTUNISIK M.B., TÜR Ö. (2005) Turkey – Challenges of continuity and change,The Contemporary Middle East Series, Routledge: London.
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JUNG D. and PICCOLI W. (2001)Turkey at the crossroads – Ottoman legacies and a greater Middle East, London and New York: Zed Books.
TOGAN S and BALASUBRAMAYAM V. N. (ed.) (2001)Turkey and Central and Eastern European Countries in Transition – Towards Membership of the EU, New York: Palagrave.
• Academic articles
“Turkey’s 2015 election prospects”, Rethink Institute, Washington DC, April 2015.
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