Turkey has become a ‘melting pot of crises’ throughout the past few years, a phenomenon President Erdogan himself has called a ‘humanitarian drama’. Due to the situation of its Syrian neighbour, the country faces immigration numbers almost triple the size of Europe, a situation putting intensive pressure on public finances and capacities. At the same time, the internal conflict with the Kurdish separatists, has caused the displacement of over 350,000 people and the killing of more than 250 civilians. Beyond that, Turkey has become of primary interest and concern for local and global security threats.
Britain is intensifying the pressure placed on Turkey regarding the country’s proactivity in the fight against ISIL and the Syrian peace as the principal foreign policy strategy regarding Turkey. The country does, however, offer two other promising opportunities for reaching stability that as yet have been overlooked in the compilation of regional crises.
Turkey is troubled by the Kurdish separatist movement’s guerrilla warfare. The Turkish government vehemently opposes all of the insurgency groups, whereas Western nations take a more nuanced view: The EU acknowledges the ‘terrorist’ status of the Turkey-based PKK but refuses to do the same for the Syrian-based YPG. As all of the groups are willing allies in the fight against ISIL, the UK’s Foreign Affairs Committee urges Turkey to overlook those tensions and accuses the government of ‘certainly illegal’ use of force against Kurdish activists.
Turkey, however, feels entitled to attack Syrian territory in the name of self-defence and anti-terrorism activity and has condemned the West’s pragmatic reality of ‘good’ and ‘bad’ terrorists. This rigour can be understood in the context of the regular terror attacks shaking the country since 2015 that have considerably depressed the tourism-dependent economy.
The EU has asked Turkey to end airstrikes on Syria, but as long as nobody promises Turkey assistance in inner conflict resolution, it seems, the country will not be willing to mitigate its military engagement. Stabilisation, for Turkey, seems to be first and foremost an internal challenge.
An internal challenge it can’t face on its own. In order for the country to become the functioning ally in the process of stabilisation that Western nations would like it to be, they do secondly need to be functioning allies and stabilising pillars for Turkey.
The relationship between Turkey and the EU, including Britain, is ambiguous. Beyond being Europe’s ‘waiting room’, with roughly 80% of Europe’s refugees coming via Turkey, the country is also a long-standing member candidate, enduring rough-running negotiations since 2005. But whilst Turkey demands Visa-free access to the Schengen zone and a definite ending of uncertainty regarding its EU membership, EU leaders such as Cameron have expressed severe doubts about a Turkish EU entry in the near future as well as fear of Erdogan’s presidential authoritarianism and doubts about the coherent protection of democratic rights.
In spite of those insecurities, and in an act of credible commitment, the EU needs to present itself as a political and active ally in facing the country’s struggles to bring about some relief. For Britain, this implies enhanced involvement: Britain has been accepting refugees very hesitantly in comparison to other EU states and only sends funds of £32m to Turkey to ‘support local capacity and build stability’, nothing compared to the £578m it sends to Syria.
Even though the UK cares about Turkey as a ‘key regional power’ in broader regional crises, there is no genuine care or ambition regarding the country itself. It is, however, of principal relevance to keep in mind that Turkey is facing pressing internal challenges. Those matters are woven into the fabric of wider violence and instability. Addressing those in a way that signals EU and British appreciation of this country as a sovereign with its own legitimate political agenda may empower or convince it to be a more determined, more conforming ally in the Middle East and the war on global terrorism. In this sense, acknowledging and acting upon Turkey’s internal struggles, as well as enhancing transparency and integrity when it comes to the country’s status in the international environment, particularly the EU, are two yet too vigorously ignored opportunities of achieving international reconciliation and regional stabilisation.