Turkish foreign policy after the coup attempt
It has been a year since the failed coup attempt in Turkey that claimed the lives of 249 and injured 2,000 on July 15, 2016. The country has witnessed several failed and successful coup attempts in its political history, but July 15 was different. The people’s unprecedented stance against this bloody attempt is unforgettable, marking the first time in history that a coup was stopped by popular resistance.
The failed coup attempt has not only shaped domestic politics but also Turkey’s foreign policy, including on Syria and relations with regional and global actors (particularly the US and Russia), the West, NATO and the EU.
Syria was the first front in which foreign policy radically shifted. Turkey launched a military operation in Syria on Aug. 24, 2016, following a Daesh suicide attack that killed 59 civilians in the border city of Gaziantep on Aug. 20. The attack was the straw that broke the camel’s back. Operation Euphrates Shield, aimed at driving Daesh and Kurdish fighters back from its border, was Turkey’s biggest intervention in Syria since the war began.
Nobody expected such a major operation at a time when the strength of Turkey’s army after the coup attempt was being questioned. Under the operation, which ended in March, Turkey took the border town of Jarablus, cleared Daesh from a roughly 100-km stretch of the border, then moved south to the strategic town of Al-Bab.
Russian-Turkish relations had started normalizing before July 15, and were cemented after a phone call between the countries’ presidents following the coup attempt. Many thought the assassination of Russia’s ambassador to Turkey on Dec. 19 by a Turkish police officer would hamper normalization, but it brought Moscow and Ankara closer. They and Tehran have been instrumental in the crucial Astana talks on Syria, and are in close contact regarding the war.
The coup attempt added new issues to strained Turkish-American relations, which were not majorly improved by a change of administration in the US in January. The most controversial issue is Ankara’s vehement objections to the US decision to arm and equip the Kurdish People’s Protection Units (YPG).
Many thought the assassination of Russia’s ambassador to Turkey on Dec. 19 by a Turkish police officer would hamper normalization, but it brought Moscow and Ankara closer.
Secretary of State Rex Tillerson recently said the Trump administration is starting to repair ties with Turkey, yet Washington still pursues policies that have caused tensions. Amid these tensions, Ankara engaged in talks with Moscow without the White House’s knowledge. President Recep Tayyip Erdogan recently said Turkey gives its ties with Russia and the US equal status.
In a bid to end six years of diplomatic impasse, months after the coup attempt Turkey and Israel sent their ambassadors to Tel Aviv and Ankara respectively as part of their reconciliation deal. Promisingly, Turkey’s energy minister is set to visit Israel by the end of this year to conclude a deal to build a natural gas pipeline from the Jewish state to Turkey.
Turkish-EU relations were already suffering before the coup attempt, but European countries’ belated condemnation of the attempt caused a deep crisis of confidence from Ankara’s side. Relations worsened further after several European countries canceled rallies planned by Turkish officials to garner support from Turks living in Europe for a constitutional referendum that took place in April.
Moreover, last week the European Parliament advised the European Council to suspend membership negotiations with Ankara, and the recent failure of talks on Cyprus has further widened the Turkish-EU gap. But despite these problems, both sides seem to agree that they cannot do without one another in a politically fragile environment. Amid all this is the ongoing Gulf crisis.
In the aftermath of July 15, Turkey was unlikely to keep its foreign policy unchanged. It has encountered new challenges that are increasing daily.
• Sinem Cengiz is a Turkish political analyst who specializes mainly in issues regarding Turkey’s relations with the Middle East. She can be reached on Twitter @SinemCngz.