Can Turkey be a fair broker in the Middle East?

Orhan Kemal Cengiz
In my column yesterday I tried to analyze the absence of democratic opposition to Israel and the US in the Middle East and finally I asked if this gap can be filled by Turkey. If there is one single country that could act as a democratic opposition to Western hegemony in this region and thus will contribute to peace and stability in this problematic corner of the world, I think it is Turkey. But can Turkey play this role successfully? Can Turkey be a fair broker in the Middle East with its current stance and mindset?
Most people would say yes to both questions without thinking too much. But I would not agree with them. Yes, Turkey already has great influence in the region, Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdo?an is a hero in the eyes of Arab nations and we have good relations with our neighbors, but this is not enough to play the role Turkey claims to be playing.
Erdo?an and his party, the Justice and Development Party (AK Party), have achieved tremendous things in Turkey. As I tried to illustrate in my previous columns, they realized a kind of “passive revolution” in which they paved the way for the absorption of “Islamist” opposition by the democratic political system in Turkey. Especially during their first couple of years in power, Erdo?an and his party took huge steps in the direction of democratization. They mobilized the most conservative and religious segments of Turkish society towards the goal of making Turkey a member of the European Union.
Not only did they achieve this, but they also changed the fundamental concepts of classic foreign policy in Turkey. Turkey had long been surrounded by “enemies” and now all these “enemies” have turned into friends and partners. And as everyone knows, starting with the 2009 Davos summit, Erdo?an has continuously bashed Israel for its wrongdoings in Gaza and in the region.
His harsh criticism of Israel made Erdo?an a hero in the Arab street, but I do not think his discourse, his way of delivering messages, is capable of filling the lack of democratic opposition in the Middle East. I think his vision and the role he has played are much more advanced than the language and rhetoric he uses while criticizing Israel. While it was criticizing Israel, Turkey welcomed Omar al-Bashir, the Sudanese president who is wanted by the International Criminal Court (ICC). While he was saying truthful things about the atrocities Israel committed in Gaza, he has also uttered words like, “Muslims do not commit genocide,” which overshadowed all his rightful criticism. In short, Erdo?an’s rhetoric has simply made him more popular in this region, but is not capable of delivering any message to the West, nor has it helped fill the gap created by the lack of democratic opposition in the Middle East.

If Turkey goes beyond Israel bashing and helps to bring true justice and stability in this region, it should have a leading role in democracy and accountability. For example, Turkey should force Israel to be subject to the jurisdiction of the ICC. We cannot do this because Turkey itself has not recognized the ICC’s jurisdiction. There is a fear that if Turkey becomes a party to the ICC, the destruction of villages in southeastern Turkey or the question of disappearances of people in Cyprus could be brought before the ICC.

The other way, of course, to address others’ atrocities and human rights violations in an influential way is for you yourself to be a good example. We still have this huge Kurdish question that may go out of control at any moment. While Turkey calls on others to face the atrocities they have committed, it has not taken any steps to face the atrocities committed against Armenians in 1915 in this country.

Yes, Turkey can be a model for the rest of the Muslim world. Yes, Turkey can play a very important role in the Middle East. Yes, Turkey can be an important channel to show and explain to the Western world serious wrongdoings in the Middle East. Yes, Turkey can do many other things. But to be able to do all these things Turkey has to deepen its own democracy, advance its own human rights standards, reconcile with all the victims of past atrocities and maintain a solid discourse, free from double standards and guided by international human rights principles. With all these things in place Turkey would not only fill the gap of democratic opposition in the Middle East, but it would also hold the key to the 21st century.


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