The unrest in Turkey is forcing Prime Minister Tayyip Erdogan to expend his
political capital at home, possibly leading to a more relaxed foreign
The demonstrations, which began in May, continue to reverberate
as authorities arrested 20 in a raid in Ankara on Tuesday.
efforts to quash the protests and have his supporters hold rallies across the
country could mean, contrary to what some analysts are saying, that he may
double down not only at home, but also abroad.
Some of the first foreign
policy consequences of the government’s crackdown were felt on Tuesday, when the
EU postponed a round of membership talks with Ankara to October.
Istanbul-based Hurriyet Daily News attributed the delay to Europe’s disapproval
of the clampdown. Though Turkish admission to the EU has long come up against
resistance among some member states, the current protests have bolstered these
The report by the BBC on Monday that Turkey is intimidating its
journalists will not improve matters.
And on the US front, despite
President Barack Obama’s close relationship with Erdogan, it seems that these
protests could sour how American decision-makers view the Turkish
To Turkey’s south, the Syrian civil war rages and despite strong
rhetoric from Erdogan and some support for fellow Sunnis fighting in the
opposition, Ankara has not taken military action against the Assad
Soner Cagaptay, director of the Turkish Research Program at the
Washington Institute for Near East Policy, told The Jerusalem Post that Turkey
now has “an opposition movement that transcends the parliament, taking its
organized voice to the streets.” It will be able to challenge Ankara’s Syria
policy, he said.
Cagaptay expanded on this point: “Currently many Turks
want Assad to go, but many of them also do not support Ankara’s Syria policy
which they think has exposed Turkey to the fallout of the Syrian
Accordingly, the new street opposition is likely to check Ankara’s
“This suggests that Turkey is going to compete with the
United States to lead from behind in Syria,” he added.
Mustafa Akyol, a
columnist for Hurriyet and the author of the book, Islam without Extremes: A
Muslim Case for Liberty, agreed, telling the Post the protests will further
restrict Ankara’s room for maneuver in Syria by focusing the attention of the
government on domestic troubles rather than foreign policy.
intervention in Syria, which was already unlikely, is now unimaginable,” he
However, despite analysis that Turkey has lost much of its ability
to act in Syria and other areas, the country still is more likely to act in
critical regions, according to Anat Lapidot-Firilla, a Turkish expert and senior
research fellow at the Van Leer Institute in Jerusalem.
points out three exceptions to what she calls Turkey’s strategic
First, she said, Turkey is unlikely to stop its involvement in
the Kurdish autonomous region in Iraq. Second, and related to the first point,
Turkey will continue to press ahead at full speed with its plans to secure the
flow of natural gas, which is badly needed for its industry and its goal of
becoming an energy hub.
Lastly, Turkey’s election campaign is starting
and therefore Erdogan will most likely continue the country’s activity related
to the Palestinians and the Gaza Strip, as it can always be used to distract the
public from domestic troubles.
“Gaza is a treasure” for the Turkish
regime, she said.
But on Syria, a bark but no bite policy may continue.
For example last month, Erdgoan said Syrian President Bashar Assad will “pay a
very, very heavy price” for mass killings.
Burak Bekdil, a columnist for
Hurriyet, told the Post Erdogan may now ramp up the rhetoric again to score some
The trouble for Erdogan, said Bekdil, is that he is not
sure how he can do this without risking a Syrian response, or one from one of
its allies – Iran, Russia, or China.
If Erdogan dares to take a bold
action to back up his rhetoric, “he will have limited options,” said Bekdil.