The U.S. suspension of visa services in Turkey is an indication of the depth of the fissures between the West and Turkey. While Turkish bureaucrats are trying to maintain functioning relations with the West, there are growing calls in Washington, Ankara and Berlin to redefine Turkey policy. Is Turkey headed for an incremental divorce with the West?
It is not easy to follow what has been happening in Syria. After six years of war and between 300,000 and 400,000 people killed — with half the population displaced and a dizzying array of factions, foreign armies and extremist groups fighting — it is hard to know who shares what interest with whom or how the killing stops.
Over the last few weeks, the fight for Raqqa, the Islamic State’s Syrian capital, and the battle for Deir Ezzor, the gateway to Iraq and the location of oil fields, have heated up, but the intensity of fighting in some other parts of the country has diminished. This is because Syrian government forces and their allies — Hezbollah, Shia militias from Iraq, Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps and Russian bombers — have taken and held territory. The Russians have also taken the lead in establishing “de-escalation zones” in parts of seven provinces and in eastern Ghouta near Damascus.
Turkey and Russia have recently both turned to an aggrieved nativism that delegitimizes democratic opposition. This nativism is nationalist, anti-elitist, protectionist, revanchist/irredentist, xenophobic and “macho”. Despite three decades of post-Cold War transition both countries have failed to be at peace with themselves; have not been able to adjust to their neighboring regions and come to terms with their respective histories.
Background: The world political order is under great duress. From Russia to India, Turkey to Hungary, Poland to Great Britain and France – and most recently in the United States – populist and authoritarian politics is making a strong comeback. Liberal democracy is no longer “on the march” while the once famously prophesized “end of history” now seems to be a very distant prospect. Pluralist, centrist and moderate politics are on the defensive. What we have at hand is a nativist wave, a reaction against roughly three decades of intense globalization.
A new “aggrieved nativism” that is thoroughly opposed to liberal values such as pluralism, freedom of expression and minority rights is appealing to majorities in many countries. Turkey and Russia are two prominent examples of this international trend. Populism, authoritarianism bordering on dictatorship, virulent nationalism imbued with a distinct contempt for liberal values has gained traction among the electorate in these two countries.
April has been an eventful month geopolitically so far. President Trump carried out a much-trumpeted-about Tomahawk missile strike at the Syrian regime, held responsible by him for a nerve-agent attack on the village of Khan Sheikhoun in Idlib, a province largely held by rebels. Trump has changed his mind on China, which he previously accused as a ‘currency manipulator’. He has also changed his mind on ‘resetting’ relations with Putin and US-Russia relations are at their ‘lowest point’ in years. Trump has issued a harsh warning to North Korea to stop missile and nuclear tests. There are signals that Trump would scale up the US military engagement in Afghanistan. Trump has congratulated, with alacrity, Turkey’s President Erdogan on his referendum victory. Are all these developments related to one another?
On March 30, 2017, the US stated that it no longer wanted to topple President Basher al-Assad and would instead concentrate on defeating and destroying the Islamic State (IS). Assad, on life-support provided by Russia and Iran, must have heaved a sigh of relief. He might have thought that over time he could free himself from the life-support system and even recover the lost territory in full.
The reunification of Cyprus is one of the world’s longest running and intractable international problems. The latest talks in Geneva in January 2017 between Nicos Anastasiades, the Greek-Cypriot President, and Mustafa Akıncı, his Turkish-Cypriot counterpart, after 20 months of negotiations, made significant progress. The issues of territorial adjustments and security and guarantees are the most sensitive and core issues yet to be resolved and ones that will determine whether a solution can be reached and approved in referendums on both sides.
The Mediterranean island has been divided since Turkey’s invasion in 1974 in response to the Greek military junta’s backing of a coup against President Makarios aimed at enosis (union with Greece).1 Cyprus is the only divided country in Europe and its capital, Nicosia, is also split in two.