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    Turks care more about democracy than visa free travel

    Güven Sak, PhD28 May 2016 - Okunma Sayısı: 2405

    Have you seen the Kadir Has University’s latest Survey of Perspectives on Turkish Foreign Policy? Well, I find its results rather interesting. 55% of Turks thinks that Turkey needs to be more active in the Middle East. Further, around half thinks that in the post Arab Spring atmosphere, US is the most powerful country in the Middle East. Yet the American activities in the region are perceived as a security threat; 41% of Turks states that the US is not to be trusted. Overall, negative evaluation of the US has increased to 67% this year.

    Our hopes now lie with the EU, mind you. 62% of Turks would like Turkey to become a part of the EU. This marks a significant increase from 2015’s results, in which only 42 percent the population was pro-EU membership. However, as much as they want to become a part of the EU, every two out of three Turks still believes that Turkey will not be allowed in the EU-club due to religious-cultural discrepancies. In a way, prospects of EU membership are a bit like an emotional roller coaster for us Turks, darting from heartbreak to hope and back again to heartbreak.

    “We will decrease the number of our enemies and increase the number of our friends” said Prime Minister Yıldırım just last week. He summarized the current Turkish foreign policy stance in a nutshell. Kadir Has Survey’s results put a lot of things into perspective, if you ask me. Turks are not happy with what’s happening in the Middle East at the moment, especially in Syria. Just look at the lousy support levels for Turkish Middle Eastern and Syrian policy: 17.1% and 16.8%, respectively. I consider this as a direct result of the realities on the ground in Syria.

    Syrian crisis was, and still is, a litmus test for Turkish foreign policy. Syrian quagmire has evolved PYD into an important ally of our allies. But make no mistake; Syrian Kurdish PYD shares the same arsenal and manpower with the PKK, its Turkish Kurdish ally.  So if being an ally of your ally makes one your ally, then the enemy of your ally’s ally should also have become your enemy. What does that make Turkey to the US at the end? Complicated, to say the least. The numbers in the survey reflects that complexity and frustration, if you ask me.

    Let me go back to the “increasing the number of our friends and decreasing the number of our enemies” stance. Does that signify a change in Turkish foreign policy now? Not really. Turkish foreign policy had changed some time ago, if you ask me. It has already become more realistic and less romantic. I tend to see it as the policy of “breaking the axis of evil.” Remember the term? Bush II used the term in his 2002 State of the Union Address to define the countries that are on the side of terrorism in his war on terror. It was just after 9/11. That term has led to devastating US operations in Afghanistan and Iraq. But not much has changed, mind you. Now Turkey has been trying to break its own axis of evil and I find the country rather successful so far. The revived EU engagement agenda of 2015, as well as Cyprus and Israel moves were all part of the same package. Turkey has already become more realistic and less romantic.

    Prime Minister Yıldırım has just confirmed that Turkish policy of breaking the axis of evil is still alive and kicking, if you ask me. Good for the migration deal. Good for a prospective domestic reconciliation in Turkey. Wonder why the support for EU membership jumped from 42 percent to 62 percent in a year? Because during the same period, the belief that EU membership would contribute to democratization of Turkey and improve the rule of law in the country has significantly increased. Just consider this: the share of Turks who think EU membership’s most important contribution to Turkey would be visa free travel is 40 percent. In contrast, share of Turks who believe that EU membership’s primary contribution would be “development of democracy” is 48 percent.

    What does this tell us? It tells us that Turks care more about the EU’s transformative power over institutions and rule of law. More than they care about visa free travel; I mean. So, it is time for the EU to more deeply and wholeheartedly engage with Turkey, if you ask me. Our friends in Brussels and all European capitals need to understand that “action speaks louder than words.”

    This commentary was published in Hürriyet Daily News on 28.05.2016