The Erdoğan-Putin summit looming on the horizon - SÜLEYMAN SEYFI ÖĞÜN

The Erdoğan-Putin summit looming on the horizon

Over the last three decades, Turkey has been gradually released from a heavy burden. This burden is none other than NATO. The very NATO that leftist groups once demanded “we leave,” while the right-wing was on intimate terms with it. History is wrought with pain and grievances on the one hand and, on the other, it consists of very ironic processes. (Who knows, perhaps the latter balances out the former.) Today, the picture is completely the opposite. The vast majority of the left-wing, in the lightest ascription, doesn’t make a fuss about NATO-Turkey relations. They are doing this through the “enlightenment opium.” This is a “double-vision” view. We can call it a sort of parallax effect as well. According to this mindset, yes, there is a “bad” West and “ugly” U.S., but a “good” West and U.S. that represent Western values also exist which are built on the foundation of democracy and human rights. This picture was quite clear in the duel between former U.S. President Donald Trump and current U.S. President Joe Biden, with the left strongly supporting the latter. These factions don’t give two pennies about NATO anymore. They think, “If the West is democratic,” even NATO can be used for “good.” Meanwhile, the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) that started as a leftist movement, becoming putty in U.S. hands does not concern them at all. This is the most twisted interpretation of internationalism. Just as they once upon a time advocated the universal solidarity of the working class, which was confined within national differences, they are now defending the universal solidarity of democratic and liberal powers. They are not concerned about the projections of this in the realpolitik world, or how it is evolving. 

Following the collapse of the Soviet Union, our pro-U.S. right lost the mission it assumed for decades through a blind and violent rage of “anti-communism.” It was like a fish out of sea. Yet, it should be noted that communism was never a real threat to Turkey. In a country where religious and conservative sensitivities are kept alive, how could the left come to power through legitimate ways – for example by an election? Yes, perhaps there were always factions in the military that thought they were socialist and upheld Kemalism’s Baathist interpretation, but I do not think that they had much chance in the military itself. Despite this, the right-wing in Turkey embraced this threat with NATO propaganda to a degree that verged on paranoic. In one of his interviews, Turkey’s third president, late Celal Bayar, said, “Communism will arrive in Turkey this winter,” presenting the severest stage of this paranoia. Tensions that emerged regarding matters such as the Cyprus question, sanctions, and opium ban shook the Turkish right. However, these were considered minor issues. It was as if these would come and go in contrast to communism, which was considered the real threat. This was the prevalent perception back then. 

The multi-party life in Turkey always kept the right in power, with the exception of a couple of negligible interruptions. As the “left” rapidly abandoned anti-NATO positions post-Cold War, the “right” was exposed to consuming NATO policies as it was busy developing different plans. The most unmitigated pro-U.S. Turgut Özal’s Homeland Party (ANAP) even got its share from this. Süleyman Demirel, the ninth president of Turkey, had more experience compared to Özal. His overall efforts during his time in power were aimed at preventing matters from further escalating. The left, on the other hand, abandoned the fight, and when it was stuck, it chose to evade the U.S. threat through EU values. (The double-vision can be seen clearly here.) 

The Justice and Development Party (AK Party) did not venture outside this general line either. Considering the atmosphere around the time AK Party was founded, it came to power by pushing back the anti-West sentiment that was tangible in the National Vision Party’s (MGP) “discourse even if not in its actions.” However, this peaceful, reconciliatory attempt found no response in NATO. NATO’s demands and insistences surpassed the limits of tolerance. The 2016 coup attempt was the last straw. Turkey found itself in a position of receiving NATO’s salvos within the practices of a government that directly identifies itself as “right.” This is a complete irony of history. 

When late Adnan Menderes, former Turkish prime minister, was berated in the U.S., he decided to go to Russia. In the present situation, Turkey and Russia’s cooperation in every field, despite the dozens of problems between them, is a process similar to this one. However, neither Turkey was the old Turkey, nor Russia the old Russia. Developments were taking place outside of U.S. initiative. These were developments that angered the U.S., nevertheless, it could not prevent them. 

Currently, a wave that has long been stirring in the depths is starting to hit the surface. This is also what makes the upcoming summit between President Erdoğan and his Russian counterpart Vladimir Putin extremely critical. As I have been underlining in a few of my articles, the U.S. is transferring its initiatives in the Middle East and the Mediterranean to its partner, the U.K., and is pulling back ever so slightly. U.S.-Russia and U.S.-Turkey relations are in no way similar to U.K.-Russia and U.K.-Turkey relations. Russia-Turkey relations, which developed during times when the U.S. was the world’s center, cannot continue in the same line during a period in which this void is largely filled by the U.K. The former might have been established on certainties, which will prove comforting for the actors of the process. The latter is due for much more exhaustive results. It is much more difficult to control when considering other actors. Putin attaches extreme importance to the meeting he will have with Erdoğan. This is the image presented by the Kremlin. Erdoğan and other Turkish authorities likely have a similar perception. The U.S. void drove Russia towards Israel, and Turkey towards the U.K. This is problematic. Let us wait and see how these two experienced leaders will “interpret” and evaluate this situation.

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