Ambassadors explain to +GercekNews: Where does Turkey’s future lie?
Erdogan was in Central Park, New York when all world leaders were attending Queen Elizabeth II's funeral. Just before that, Erdogan went to the Shanghai Cooperation Organization summit and gave his famous pose to the international press with Aliyev, Putin, and all the autocrats of the East…
Where to look for Turkey’s future? Some experts say that with the Ukraine war, Europe's eastern border will now pass through Greece; and Turkey, which has lost its former importance, will be neglected. Despite them, there are also other experts saying loudly that “Turkey is part of the West.”
Can Turkey reach a democratic vision with the Shanghai Cooperation Organization?
We talked to three retired Ambassadors, who are currently the Deputy Chairs of the opposition's three assertive parties: Republican People’s Party (CHP), Future Party (Gelecek Partisi), and Democracy and Progress Party (DEVA).
Ambassadors Unal Cevikoz, Umit Yardim, and Abdurrahman Bilgic, specifically told +GercekNews what kind of policy Turkey should follow between the West and the East.
Unal Cevikoz joined the Foreign Ministry in 1978 and he is the former Turkish Ambassador to Baku (2001-2004), Baghdad (2004-2007), and London (2010-2014). Since 2015, he has been a member of CHP and an MP since 2018.
"As a country that takes part in most of the European and Euro-Atlantic organizations, Turkey's full membership in SCO would be obviously self-contradictory"
Unal Cevikoz: Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO) is a regional formation that was established in 1996 (then known as the Shanghai Five), to prevent the dissemination of separatist and radical ideologies and movements in Central Asia. The initial founders were Russia and China, with the participation of Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, and Tajikistan. In 2001, with the participation of Uzbekistan, its institutionalization occurred. It has been mainly recognized as an organization that develops cooperation for counterterrorism. In time, it became evident that the spirit of the SCO was developing into Anti-Western sentiment.
Turkey, under the AKP rule, has expressed the wish to be in close coordination with the SCO. In 2012, Turkey was granted the status of a dialogue partner in the SCO. This status should be maintained. As a country that takes part in most of the European and Euro-Atlantic organizations, Turkey's full membership in SCO would be obviously self-contradictory.
This contradiction has already been signaled by Russia, in a statement suggesting that Turkey's membership in NATO would be incompatible with its wish to become a member of SCO. Nevertheless, Turkey's western vocation cannot and should not be interpreted as an obstacle to maintaining and promoting relations with other geographies. Such a comprehensive foreign policy approach would enhance Turkey's capacity to contribute to global cooperation. It is, therefore, necessary to keep relations with the SCO, as a dialogue partner, but not as a full member.
Umit Yardim took various offices in the Foreign Ministry in 1985. He was the former Ambassador to Komotini (2004-2006), Stuttgart (2008-2010), Tehran (2010-2014), Moscow (2014-2016), and Vienna (2019). Since 2019, he is a member of the Future Party.
"SCO may be providing some grounds for developing new paths of cooperation if handled properly, but it shall never constitute an alternative to Turkey’s dreams for the future."
Umit Yardim: Since Turkey in the current global environment does not have the luxury of developing strategic relations depending on one or two actors among the world actors, searching for new paths of partnership and cooperation towards deepened regional cooperation is vital. This is especially true for Turkey, a country that has visionary ambitions to turn into a regional power if not a global one. However, there are certain prerequisites based on rational and visionary foreign policy for such ambitions to become true and to avoid nightmares.
Given this context, recently, the 22nd summit meeting of Asia’s largest umbrella structure Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO) on 15/16 September 2022 in the dream city of Turks/Turkish civilization, namely Samarkand, paved the way for searching for answers to some questions around Turkish participation in the level of Head of State. Although the summit was under the shadow of deteriorating relations of some of its members with western powers, especially in the case of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, and surely China, Iran may also be added, Turkey’s presence at this summit as a special guest was more attractive at least for the Turkish audience and Turkey’s domestic politics.
The questions revolved mostly around if Turkey was changing its axis and where it could end up with. Similar questions that Turkey faced during the Cold War years when it attempted to develop relations with Moscow. All of these had rationality behind them since Turkey is a member of NATO, a decades-old candidate for the EU, and regardless of whether it is on the verge of expulsion, still a member of the Council of Europe and has strong relations and identity shaped during centuries of interaction with the western world.
In this framework, there are some factors for Turkey’s recent closer interest in SCO where it is already a dialogue partner, even to the level of full membership as demonstrated in the words of President Erdogan. His words to this end may be recalled when he said that Turkey’s candidacy to the EU may even be suspended in return for full membership to SCO.
Deterioration of Turkey’s relations with the West in general and desire to go to UNGA in New York following days with the psychology that Turkey is not in “precious loneliness” anymore.
Beyond Turkey’s membership in the Western alliance structures and given the inner complexities of SCO together with strong hostilities among its members, it is lagging behind in all forms to offer an alternative to where Turkey’s political, cultural, economic, social, etc. standing is at the present.
Perhaps more importantly, Turkey and its people envy a world of democracy, freedoms in all spheres, transparency, quality of life, etc. which are almost lacking in the spirit of SCO as seen in the recent Samarkand Declaration.
Therefore, while relations with SCO may be providing some grounds for developing new paths of cooperation if handled properly, in its current form it shall never constitute an alternative to Turkey’s and its people’s dreams for the future. The current level of relations as a dialogue partner must be seen as a threshold that is enough for many years/decades to come. In these crucial times of Turkish foreign policy, what is needed urgently is normalization in all dimensions and refraining from adventures and further derailing.
Abdurrahman Bilgic joined the Foreign Ministry in 1986. He was the former Ambassador to Munich (2005-2007), Tokyo (2011), and London (2014-2018). Between 2011 and 2014, he was the Deputy Undersecretary of the National Intelligence Organization of Turkey (MIT). He became one of the founders of the DEVA Party in 2020.
"SCO cannot replace NATO"
Abdurrahman Bilgic: Turkey is a NATO country and a Dialogue Partner in SCO. Its multidimensional foreign policy objectives, however, cannot allow it to get even observer status, let alone full-fledged membership in SCO. Therefore, the recent rhetoric regarding Turkey’s SCO membership is probably for domestic consumption if Turkey has no intention to leave NATO amid growing tensions between major powers. On the other hand, SCO cannot replace NATO from a collective security perspective. To keep value-based alliances and a rules-based international system is essential as well. Otherwise, we will find ourselves in a jungle.