Turkey shows leadership in reconciliation


Opinion by “The National”

When the Islamic Justice and Development Party assumed power in Turkey seven years ago, it resolved to rebrand the country into something of a regional superpower. No longer would Turkey be a vestige of Ottoman grandeur, teetering between its European desires and eastern geographical constraints; nor would it be the informal autocracy that years of military coups had created. Instead, it would transform into a moderate republic that prided itself on a ?zero-problem? foreign policy strategy, which advocated an even-handed approach between the Muslim world and the West. Believing that its economic infrastructure was the strongest in the region, it strove to create economic alliances that would be central to achieving status as the dominant regional power.

These days, Turkey seems to have moved into its ?maximum co-operation? phase ? a term coined by Turkey?s chief foreign policy adviser ? to describe the next step of that vision. In reaching out to both Armenia on the foreign policy front and addressing its ongoing crisis with its Kurdish population domestically, the country is attempting to resolve two long-fought battles that have marred its ability to play the role of peacemaker and attain a coveted role as broker between East and West. Unsettled questions over the Ottoman government?s massacres of Armenians in 1915 have caused Turkey and Armenia to have a virtually nonexistent relationship for much of the last century. Hostilities further escalated in 1993 when Turkey closed the only border they share, leading to debilitating economic consequences for the Armenians. Officials have recently decided to bury the hatchet by establishing formal diplomatic ties, which could reopen the border in as little as two months. While a re-establishment of ties with Turkey remains an incredibly sensitive issue to many Armenians, the gesture effectively removes one of Turkey?s larger stumbling blocks towards EU accession while also offering the potential of a political and economic partnership with Armenia, whose very pointed omission from the Nabucco gas pipeline might warrant a review in light of its new diplomatic situation.

Meanwhile, last month, the Turkish government announced it was working on reforms to broaden rights for its long-marginalised Kurdish community, though details of the plan are unknown. In response, the Kurdish population in the town of Diyabakir celebrated World Peace Day on Tuesday by calling for an end to the violence between Turkish troops and the Kurdish Workers? Party, or PKK, a separatist movement responsible for much of Turkey?s bombings over the past three decades. Leaders are hopeful that a permanent peace plan will bring an end to the 25-year uprising and send a clear message to the international community that if Turkey can put its own house in order, it can, by extension, look out for its neighbours.

Whatever Turkey?s motives and whether or not they are US and EU-influenced, a resolution to these long and tragic enmities presents a welcome change for a part of the world that has so many to reconcile. Making peace with its troubled past and pursuing a ?zero-problem? neighbour policy would be a good start on Turkey?s road to mature regional leadership.

Source: “The National”, Abu Dhabi, 02 September 2009