President Erdogan During a Meeting in the Kremlin C. 2019
Sharing a set of western, secular ideals (such as women’s enfranchisement) and land in the same continent, Turkey has always had a close relation with the EU and its predecessor, the EEC (European Economic Commission). Moreover, Turkey has been progressively moving toward these two political institutions since their formations – applying to the EEC and EU in 1987 and 2005 respectively. Just this October, however, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan invaded Kurdish-controlled lands in North-East Syria, thus violating the EU membership criteria under the Copenhagen Convention and making it perfectly clear that he intends to finally sever Turkey from the EU and the West.
His invasion, which began on the evening of October 9th following six hours of air and artillery strikes, saw Turkish troops and their allies of the Syrian National Army (TFSA) move in across the border and successfully occupy several border towns and cities controlled by the Autonomous Administration of North and East Syria (also known as Rojava). The invasion, made possible by U.S. President Donald Trump’s evacuation of American troops from the Syrian border with Turkey, has been long desired by Erdogan as a means to stop the coordination and transport of arms between the de facto Kurdish state of Rojava and the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK), a Kurdish terrorist organization based in Turkey. With the signing of a ceasefire between Turkey and the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) of Rojava being reached on October 17th, Erdogan certainly has gained some victories he can campaign on back home. Turkish forces have successfully created a 20-mile deep demilitarized “safe zone” along most of the Syrian border and more than, “1,200 terrorists have been neutralized,” according to Turkish Defense Minister Hulusi Akar.
Nonetheless, the invasion, dubbed “Operation Peace Spring” by Turkish forces, may have more opaque and long-term repercussions for foreign policy; since the onset of the operation, relations with the EU have almost completely deteriorated. President Erdogan, whose actions have been almost universally condemned, has shown no restraint for his initiatives in the face of economic sanctions, embargoes on arms imports and further forms of backlash by the EU and the United States. In fact, he has largely just shown contempt to those who seem to oppose his actions explicitly; upon hearing the European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker’s statement that, “I call on Turkey, as well as other actors, to act with restraint,” The Turkish President in response threatened to “flood” Europe with millions of Syrian refugees should there be intervention. This coercion, while achieving little tangibly for Erdogan, will certainly irritate the EU and push Turkey further away from its sphere.
Turkey’s application to the EU, which had been previously delayed mostly due to allegations of human rights violations, now is sure to falter. These impediments prior to the invasion, while having been significant, were certainly surmountable under the incentives of economic prosperity and cultural westernization that the EU offered. Now, Turkey seems to have aligned with the EU’s traditional nemesis of Russia following its agreement to allow its deployment of soldiers in the new safety zone. Furthermore, following the U.S. House of Representatives’ retaliatory passing of bill H.RES 106 recognizing the Armenian Genocide, the straining of relations with other non-European NATO allies has become ever more apparent.
This recent behavior by Erdogan appears to be simply a manifestation of his long-awaited and ultimate goal: to partially de-westernize Turkey from the politics and reforms of the Father of the Turks and first President of Turkey, Mustafa Kemal Pasha. Erdogan’s Islamic and nationalistic ideology, first declared with his recitation in 1997 of a poem by Ziya Gokalp, has long stayed subtle. Now, it seems to have boiled over and if the Turkish population wants to remain moderate and reorient to the EU, regime change seems to be the only option. As of now, this process appears to have begun following the loss of Erdogan’s AK Party in Istanbul’s 2019 mayoral election. The question is, has Erdogan already permanently severed Turkey from the West?