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    Why doesn’t Turkey act as it talks?

    Güven Sak, PhD11 February 2014 - Okunma Sayısı: 1419

    If Turkey wants to be an important actor, it should just maintain a solid economy and strong democracy, that’s it.

    A foreign diplomat asked me this question the other day. We were having a conversation about Turkey and he, completely naturally, asked “Why do you think Turkey does not act as it talks?” I responded immediately: “Pardon me, what do you mean?” He continued, “Turkey talks about being one of the key actors in its region, and I agree with that. But Turkey does not act as it talks.” Actually, I have been thinking the same lately: Turkey talks about things, but somehow does not or cannot do what is necessary.

    There is a lot of talk, but no action. Why is that so? I see three possible reasons. First, it might be that it suffers from an inferiority complex and does not believe in what it says. I don’t think this is the case for Turkey. Second, might be that it is unaware of the fact that it lacks the capacity to do what is necessary, so it just talks. During a meeting in Ankara a couple of years ago, a Russian exterior minister asked an American counterpart how many diplomats his country had. Upon his response, “15,000,” he asked Turkey’s exterior minister the same question. He replied, “900.” The Russian diplomat closed the deal in his own way while we were standing there in wonder. I don’t see a direct relationship, however, between Turkey’s role in the region and the recruitment policy of the Ministry of the Exterior.

    This leaves us with the third option: that it does not properly monitor the developments in the region and it is unaware of global trends. I think this third option fits Turkey the best. Recently, Turkey has been standing in the middle of a series of unprecedented incidents in its recent history. What is at the heart of this unprecedented series of incidents? World War II ended de facto when the Berlin Wall came down in 1989. With the recent developments in Syria, I think, we are at the end of the beginning of the de facto end of World War I, when all of the borders were redrawn, and we lost an empire,.

    Now, two things will take place simultaneously: borders will be redrawn and the region will become integrated into the global economy. I think the latter is more important than the former as it is where Turkey will have to assume a role. We are where we are today because of the Syrian issue. I am not claiming that Turkey has misinterpreted the Syrian issue. After all, who hasn’t? Here is a short reminder: in March 2011, the Arab spring arrived in Syria. It is almost March 2014. The Syrian uprising turned into a civil war almost three years ago. Meanwhile, two million Syrians have fled the country and about 150,000 Syrians have been killed. It was about two and a half years ago when Obama said, “Assad must go,” for the first time. Syrian President Bashar al-Assad is still in office. So, is it necessarily bad for Turkey that the borders of the WWI will be redrawn? No. Actually, I believe that the ongoing process has highlighted the role Turkey can play in its region.

    I think there are two critical roles Turkey should undertake. Turkey has companies that can take part in the global integration of the region and can be actors for change. Hence, the Turkish economy is important for the region. Turkey is the only country in the region that has experienced a democratic system, which might enable the harmonious coexistence of the different ethnic and religious elements in the region. So, the second point is that Turkish democracy is important. Both of these make Turkey a unique actor in its region in this unprecedented process of change.

    If Turkey wants to be an important actor, it should just maintain a solid economy and strong democracy, that’s it. It has nothing to do with the recruitment policy of the Ministry of Exterior or the intelligence bureau. It is all about the problem solving skills of the economic management and the ballot box. Please note that both are being tested these days.

    This commentary was published in Radikal daily on 11.02.2014