Turkiye’s mediation plans face complex challenges

Turkiye’s mediation plans face complex challenges

Turkey's President Recep Tayyip Erdogan. (AP file photo)
Turkey's President Recep Tayyip Erdogan. (AP file photo)
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In the 2000s, Turkiye actively engaged in high-profile mediation attempts in some perennial intrastate and interstate conflicts in the Middle East to both consolidate its place in the regional order and to increase its leverage among regional and global stakeholders.

And in Turkish foreign policy today, there has been a growing emphasis on the importance of mediation as a diplomatic tool. Despite mediation evolving into a crucial tool for crisis resolution, it still faces numerous challenges due to its complex nature, including factors such as the intentions of the disputing parties and the motives of third-party interveners — a factor that is evident in Turkiye’s mediation attempts.

Recently, Ankara has expressed an interest in mediating or has actively offered to mediate in three distinct disputes, spanning from Ukraine to Africa, via the South Caucasus. The divergence among these conflicts is related not only to Turkiye’s direct or indirect involvement, but also to Ankara’s close ties with the conflicting parties. These conflicts are between Russia and Ukraine, Armenia and Azerbaijan, and Somalia and Ethiopia.

President Recep Tayyip Erdogan last week stated Turkiye’s readiness to host a summit between Ukraine and Russia in a bid to end the war, following talks with his Ukrainian counterpart in Istanbul. Turkiye hosted peace talks between Russia and Ukraine in 2022 but has since complained that no diplomatic steps have been taken to advance these discussions. It has repeatedly offered to host further talks, saying a summit of leaders was needed.

Ankara has expressed an interest in mediating or has actively offered to mediate in three distinct disputes

Sinem Cengiz

Erdogan tries to maintain cordial relations with both leaders, Vladimir Putin and Volodymyr Zelensky, aiming to position himself as the only leader who can deal with both conflicting sides. Erdogan’s balancing act has allowed it to help produce some noticeable outcomes, including the deal that lifted a de facto Russian blockade of Ukrainian grain exports and an agreement on the exchange of prisoners of war.

During the course of the conflict, NATO member Turkiye has managed to preserve its strategic autonomy by refraining from aligning with the West in placing sanctions on Russia, while also maintaining its connections with both Moscow and Kyiv without jeopardizing its own geostrategic interests. However, Turkiye’s balancing act faces constraints concerning its relations with the EU, NATO and the US; thus, it is hard for it to play the roles of both an ally and a mediator at the same time.

The second conflict, involving Armenia and Azerbaijan, also intertwines with the dynamics between Russia and the US. Erdogan has emphasized the importance of concluding a peace treaty between Armenia and Azerbaijan, saying that maintaining stability in the Caucasus is a priority for Turkiye. He underlined that Ankara wants a new era in the region to begin with the signing of a peace agreement between Yerevan and Baku.

Washington has been trying to carve out a possible mediation role for Ankara in this conflict as an attempt to push Moscow out of the region. According to the West, Russia’s mediation is questionable and its policies allow Turkiye to claim the role of the new official moderator of Armenian-Azerbaijani talks. The tensions in the South Caucasus and the talks over a possible mediator are actually facilitated by the ongoing confrontation between the West and Russia due to the Ukraine war.

The feasibility of Turkiye’s mediation began to be actively discussed in Armenia after last Saturday’s joint statement by US Secretary of State Antony Blinken and Turkish Foreign Minister Hakan Fidan. They announced their readiness “to work together to promote a balanced and lasting peace agreement between Armenia and Azerbaijan.”

Turkiye’s balancing act faces constraints concerning its relations with the EU, NATO and the US

Sinem Cengiz

Armenian Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan on Tuesday stated that, while addressing the question of whether he sees an attempt by the West to engage Turkiye in the Armenian-Azerbaijani settlement process, “something important is happening in our relations with Turkiye ... We are talking to each other, and I believe that we have a dialogue with the president of Turkiye. That dialogue is very complicated, not easy, but it is very important to have it.” This statement underscored that, even though Turkiye might appear to be a questionable candidate for Armenia due to its alliance with Azerbaijan, an Armenian willingness to engage with Ankara suggests a shift driven by US pressure.

However, Turkiye’s potential role as a mediator in this conflict might also face challenges. Although it has engaged in a normalization process with Armenia in recent years, given its role in the Nagorno-Karabakh war, it might be hard for Turkiye to maintain its balancing act between the two sides.

The last conflict pertains to tensions between Somalia and Ethiopia, which were sparked by the January signing of a memorandum of understanding between Ethiopia and Somaliland that proposed giving landlocked Ethiopia access to the Red Sea in exchange for Addis Ababa’s recognition of the self-declared republic. This was followed by Somalia’s recent deal with Turkiye, which has raised the stakes in a simmering maritime dispute with Ethiopia.

Rather than being dragged into this conflict, Turkiye wants to play the role of mediator to preserve its cordial relations with Somalia and Ethiopia, both of which attach great importance to their relations with Ankara. Turkiye has already attempted to launch a mediation process between Somalia and Somaliland but without making any serious progress. Most likely, any possible Turkish mediation in the Somali-Ethiopian tensions will face a similar outcome due to the involvement of several external actors and the complexity of the problem.

Despite Turkiye’s eagerness to mediate between all these parties, its mediation efforts have limits and may face challenges due to both its relationships with the conflicting parties and the role of external actors.

Sinem Cengiz is a Turkish political analyst who specializes in Turkiye’s relations with the Middle East. X: @SinemCngz


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