Turkey’s int’l vacuum?
Wider effects of Nationalist party leader’s inflammatory statements on Mosul and Kirkuk
Nationalist Movement Party (MHP) leader Devlet Bahceli has said that Turkey’s interest in Mosul an Kirkuk is such that they could be considered as additional provinces of Turkey. He also indicated that up to 5,000 members of the youth branches of his party are ready to support the government if military action is considered. Bahceli’s statements point to the possibility of a military intervention in Northern Iraq.
How can Bahcel ’s words be interpreted in terms of foreign policy?
These statements are in direct contradiction of the principles of Turkish foreign policy and international law. Firstly, since the dawn of the republic, Turkey has argued that its borders are unchangeable. This is a cardinal principle of Turkish foreign policy and constitutes a total contrast to the imperial ideology that when you are powerful you conquer territory, when you are weak you lose it. Turkey has achieved territorial stability by subscribing to the principle that its borders are inviolable, that it did not aspire to acquire territory from other countries, nor would it permit other countries to harbor territorial ambitions on Turkish territory. Engaging
in such talk as “we are going to cross the border to help people that are of Turkish origin living in an area that once belonged to the Turkish Empire” is in complete violation of the principle that is deeply ingrained in our foreign policy that Turkey abides by the international treaties that have determined its borders.
Secondly, such talk also generates political reverberations elsewhere. If Turkey considers a change in its borders through military action, it may be willing to do the same around its other borders, where there may be either people of Turkish origin on the other side of the border or there may be historical reasons for claiming that current border is not satisfactory. Such careless remarks, predictably, raise concerns in neighboring societies about their own security. Thirdly, if one accepts the idea that borders are changeable, one should also understand that there is no reason to assume that borders will necessarily change only in the way that Turkish government
wants them to change.
Fourthly, the reference to volunteers for military action organized by a political party runs totally contrary to the idea that political parties can not have paramilitary forces, a rule embedded in Turkish Political Parties Law. It appears that these remarks were not carefully considered. I suspect they may have been motivated by concerns of a failing political party for domestic consumption, but they are very damaging to Turkey’s external relations.
Are his statements based on international relations?
Bahceli’s political party has been losing ground and his remarks may well have been intended to inject new life into his party. But the way it has been expressed is simply unacceptable. There are people of Turkish origin living in neighboring countries and our borders are determined by international treaties. Turkey does have a legitimate interest in helping these people preserve their cultural identity and to live in peace. If there are complaints about the way people of Turkish origin are being treated in a particular country, Turkey has the right to formally complain about this but not to interfere in the domestic politics of other countries by taking military action to shape things to its own ends.
Do these statements chime with the Turkish government’s foreign policy?
There has been a general shift in the government’s policy in favor of extreme nationalism. This departs from earlier motivations that were generally diagnosed as deriving from religion. The change has been interpreted as that this line of nationalism is motivated by the need to hold together a domestic coalition in which the nationalists were needed to bring about the constitutional changes that the government desired but did not have the votes to enact. Since it wants to bring about other changes, the governing party needs the coalition to continue, leading it to keep pursuing the same nationalistic line. The most important domestic manifestation of this policy shift has been the termination of the peace process that the government had been conducting with the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK). Policy has shifted in such a way that we are back to military solutions to what are essentially social, economic and ethnic problems. By themselves, military policies have not been effective in the past. The coalition appears to have been motivated by domestic considerations. But, unfortunately, Turkey does not live in an international vacuum and domestically motivated changes in foreign policy expose Turkey to problems and dangers that could have been avoided.