An Identity-Based Approach to Effects of Recent Parliamentary Elections on Turkey’s Regional Policies

Saturday, August 22, 2015

Hossein Mofidi Ahmadi, Ph.D. in International Relations &
Visiting Researcher at the Institute for Middle East Strategic Studies

All analyses that have been so far offered about the effects of Turkey’s recent parliamentary elections on the country’s regional policies can be categorized under two main approaches. According to the first approach, Turkey’s existing regional policies will continue. Reasons given by the proponents of this approach include personal characteristics of Turkey’s President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, the existing political and social structure in Turkey (including impossibility of a coalition to be formed by rival parties of the ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) and continuation of unrivalled domination of this party, which has been confirmed by reports about the failure of negotiations held to form a coalition government) and inevitable structural effects of recent geopolitical changes in the region on the actions taken by Turkey’s foreign policy apparatus. The second approach, however, believes that developments related to the results of recent elections will undermine and/or change Turkey’s regional policies. However, it seems that various identity-related aspects and effects of the recent elections and their possible impacts on Turkey’s regional policies following the country’s parliamentary vote, have received less attention and need to be studied in more depth.

Identity-related changes in Turkey during the past three decades, which have been a result of extensive domestic and foreign developments – especially the country’s effort to accede to the European Union –, have made possible the emergence and role of three Islamic, Turkish and European identity layers along with new interpretations of these identity layers.

Few, if any, analysts can be found, who after careful study of Turkey’s foreign and regional policies from the beginning of the new millennium up to the so-called Arab Spring developments, would not admit to Europeanization of these policies. Relative replacement of Hobbesian approaches, which are based on hostility and balance-building, with a Kantian approach, which is based on cooperation, diplomacy and soft power; relative alteration in the country’s ideology-based, inflexible, and enemy-oriented foreign and regional policies toward a new approach based on mediation; and more attention paid to economic diplomacy in order to set the direction of Turkey’s foreign policy and resolve regional crises have been among major signs of Europeanization of Turkey’s regional policy.

However, following the so-called Arab Spring developments, we have been witnessing changes in the aforesaid approach, so that, many analysts have been talking about the demise of the policy of “reducing tension with neighbors to zero,” which was the main approach that attested to Europeanization of Turkey’s regional policy. These developments have led to disruption of the previous regional order and its replacement with a new order in the region. This issue faced major regional actors, including Turkey, with uncertainty and complicated conditions, which called for new interpretations and actions, and led to prominence of the Islamic aspect of Turkey’s identity and emergence of a more exclusive and sectarian interpretation of this aspect in this country.

Recent parliamentary elections in Turkey confirmed the proposition that despite many ups and downs, the process of Europeanization in the Turkish society has never been stopped and has made way for the creation of more powerful and more stable democratic institutions. Evidence to this issue was holding of the elections which were marked with extensive political and social participation and dynamism and relatively conformed to standards of the European Union. Another example was opposition of the majority of the Turkish society with centralist and sometimes exclusionist approaches of the ruling political elites, which was manifest in the opposition shown to the AKP’s plans for the creation of a presidency system that would have led to possible centralization of power in the hands of Mr. Erdogan.

It seems that due to gradual strengthening of the European identity aspect of Turkey and the resultant invigoration of norms that are related to this identity aspect, it is possible for more rigid interpretations of the Islamic Sunni identity aspect of the country to lose force, thus, allowing liberal and Islamic currents to establish closer ties as a result of which liberal groups and parties would be able to play a more effective role in Turkey’s foreign policymaking process. In the meantime, promoting more overarching and less exclusive interpretations of the country’s “Turkish” identity aspect would increase the effect of the viewpoints of Turkey’s Kurdish and Alawite population on future regional strategies of Ankara. Within this framework, the following possible changes will predictably take place in Turkey’s regional policies:

1. More attention to mediatory approaches and crisis management mechanisms in cooperation with other regional powers, including Iran;

2. More alignment with the strategies of the European countries and the United States in the Middle East and North Africa, including by playing a more powerful role in anti-ISIS coalition;

3. Changing policies related to the issue of Kurds in Iraq and Syria and more agreement of the government with the positions taken by Syrian Kurds. Within this framework, Ankara is also likely to pay more attention to the demands of the Iraqi Kurdistan region, especially with regard to fighting ISIS and also by taking more active action on ISIS’ operations in Kurdish regions of Syria. Of course, it should be noted that the issue of secessionist Kurds will continue to overshadow Turkey’s regional policy as a securitized issue;

4. Adoption of a more transparent, more moderate and more logical policy by Turkey on the situation in Syria while continuing Ankara’s past policy, which seeks to topple the Syrian government; and

5. Increasing Ankara’s distance with those regional coalitions that smack of sectarian conflicts.

Key Words: Turkey, Parliamentary Elections, Regional Policies, Identity-Based Approach, Recep Tayyip Erdogan, Justice and Development Party (AKP), ISIS, Syria, Iraq, Kurds, Europeanization of Turkey, Mofidi Ahmadi

More By Hossein Mofidi Ahmadi:

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*Photo Credit: Al-Monitor

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