Terror in Turkey and Hope for a Better Partnership in the New Year

  • Ilija Vojnovic

It is somehow customary for humans to believe that calendars can influence the beginning and the end of their troubles. 

In many locations around the globe, December 31, 2016 was viewed as a hopeful end to what was certainly a tough year.  Political tsunamis, increasing terror threats and the passing of many global celebrities all caused a bad taste in the mouths of those trying to reminisce about the past year.

January 1, 2017, therefore, seemed to be a point on the calendar which simply had to mark the beginning of better things to come.  Alas, the hope did not last very long, as a New Year’s Eve celebration in Istanbul at one of the most popular Bosporus clubs, turned into a massacre when a gunman entered, shooting and killing 39 guests and wounding over 70.  A day later, ISIS issued a statement taking responsibility for the heartbreaking act. Unlike previous cases of attacks in Turkey attributed to ISIS, this time they in fact claimed responsibility.  

The attack symbolically marked the continuation of terror struggles to come for Turkey, the region and the world.  According to reports, victims in the attack came from 14 different countries, which clearly showed that terror threats are less and less prone to observe any national boundaries.  In fact, three of the victims were members of the Lebanese Forces Student Association, which is part of the network of party youth organizations around the Youth of the European People’s Party (YEPP) and International Youth Democratic Union (IYDU), both key partners of IRI. 

Turkey remains a particularly complex environment for anti-terror efforts due to a number of reasons. Internally, the country has been experiencing serious political, social and economic turbulence. All of these troubles have created a very volatile environment, in which it is extremely difficult to maintain security.  Additionally, Turkey’s geographic location, bordering Syria and Iraq, make it unavoidably prone to violent spillovers.  On top of all this, Turkey’s recent involvement in the war in Syria and its activities against ISIS have provoked this jihadist group to call openly for the targeting of Turkey and its citizens.

However, possibly the most troublesome reason for Turkey’s unsuccessful efforts to deal with growing security challenges lies in the mounting problems the country is experiencing in its partnerships with its traditional Western allies.  A worrisome level of incompatibility between Turkey’s foreign policy and a number of its Western partners, namely the European Union, have ultimately led to the European Parliament’s declaration on freezing accession talks.  Additionally, Turkey’s relations with NATO, where its military is the second largest, have encountered numerous obstacles.  The consequences of this are possibly best reflected in public-opinion data which show that when asked how helpful NATO would be in providing support to Turkey in the case of a security and military threat, less than ten percent say they believe NATO would be very helpful.

Certainly, there are many fair criticisms which can be directed at the current government’s policies, from anti-democratic practices to some questionable regional and foreign policy turns.  The fact, however, is that Turkey has been presented with a number of extremely bad options given its geographical position and the conflicts surrounding it.  The modern Turkish Republic was created with the main aspiration of becoming and remaining a member of the Western family.  This course has stayed clearly engraved in Turkish society throughout many turbulent years in the country’s democratic development.  Broad and deep Western partnerships have always been, and must remain, strong anchors for the country as it attempts to deal with several concurrent crises.  Turkey has no viable alternatives in the East and is bound to struggle until it reaffirms ties with its true partners. 

As the main precondition for this, it is crucial for all parties in the process to understand fully that calendars do not dictate the beginning and the end of a struggle, and that only open and true partnership policies will turn 2017 into a year of hope.


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