Dec 16 2017

How Turkey was pulled back into the Middle East

Turkey’s attempts to gain soft power in the Middle East by mediating conflicts, building close ties with all actors and becoming a democratic model for the Arab world fell apart due to the country getting too involved and becoming a party to disputes itself, two analysts said.

“Being in but not truly of the region – to use Churchill’s adage about Britain and Europe – Turkey long succeeded in living with conflicts next door without incurring inordinate costs,” wrote research fellow Dimitar Bechev and Joost Hiltermann, the Middle East and North Africa programme director at the International Crisis group.

The ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) departed from the decades-old policy of not getting involved in Middle Eastern conflicts and made a series of miscalculations, they said.

“Most of the gambles the AKP took, starting from the mid-2000s, but especially from 2011 onwards, boomeranged,” they said.

Economic growth and initial successes in developing close relationships on both sides of many of the region’s divides, Bechev and Hiltermann said, allowed Ankara to believe that it had figured the region out until a series of dilemmas – Iraqi elections, Hamas recognition, the Syrian conflict – forced it to choose sides as well.

“Turkey’s challenge today,” they wrote, “is to restore equipoise in its regional relations and in particular to prevent any further negative spillover from the conflicts and vacuum in Syria and Iraq, while finding ways to address its own worsening internal convulsions.”