Why Does Nobody Want to Play with Turkey?

by Burak Bekdil

Turkey is too big, too Islamist and too un-European for the EU; it is too little Islamist and a disliked former colonial power for most of the Arab street; a sectarian and regional rival for Iran, and a security threat to the bigwigs in the Shanghai Cooperation Organization.

Theoretically, Turkey is a NATO ally. In reality, it is a part-time NATO ally. It became the first member state that had military exercises with the Syrian army and the Chinese Air Force; awarded a NATO-sensitive air defense contract to a Chinese company; supported jihadists in Syria and the Muslim Brotherhood elsewhere in the Middle East; allied with what NATO nations view as a terrorist organization (Hamas); shared, until recently, an embarrassing list of potentially terrorist-sponsoring countries with seven others including Syria and Pakistan, and sported a population with the lowest support for the NATO alliance.

Also, theoretically, Turkey is a member candidate of the European Union [EU]. In reality, since 1974, Turkey has been occupying one-third of the territory of an EU member state, Cyprus; it boasts a record number of violations of human rights, according to rulings by the European Court of Human Rights; it remains the EU’s dreaded problem in most areas of fundamental policy; it habitually (and undiplomatically) ignores EU calls for broader freedoms; and it is gripped by a deep distrust of the EU. A most recent survey, “Public Opinion in The European Union – November 2014,” conducted by the European Commission’s Eurobarometer, revealed that only 18% of Turks trust the EU.

Just recently, Russia’s prime minister, Dmitry Medvedev, recalled a joke by his predecessor Viktor Chernomyrdin [prime minister between 1992 and 1998] who once was asked by a journalist when Ukraine could join the EU. “After Turkey,” Chernomyrdin replied. When should we expect Turkey to become a member, asked the journalist. “Never,” he said.

During most of the 2000s, Turkey’s soul searching, coupled with its leaders’ apparent quest for the revival of pan-Islamist and neo-Ottoman ideas, pushed the country into the illusion of a “Middle East Union” to be led, of course, by Turkey. Instead, Turkey in the post-Arab Spring years has found itself as the target of enmity in the Middle East. Many overt and covert hostilities and tensions created diplomatic crises with all countries in the former Ottoman lands — except one: the tiny hydrocarbon-rich emirate, Qatar (along with Hamas).

Theoretically, Turkey is the regional empire in the Muslim Middle East. In reality, it is an unwanted ally.

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