After a tumultuous 2014, an even more heated 2015 is at the door. Turkey will likely again be in the middle of many confrontations and conflicts in the coming year.
Turkey and the EU: an expensive and heart breaking affair
It is not difficult to see that Turkey’s relations with the EU are deteriorating while the bilateral relations with the member states within the union are getting better on certain fronts. We cannot deny the fact that the process to please the EU helped bring discipline to the Turkish political scene in institutionalizing various decisions of the government in terms of more democratization, economic stability measures and foreign relations. However, the fact that the EU decided to give membership status to Romania, Bulgaria and Hungary, who remain far away from even the most basic EU standards, as well as a bankrupt Greece and Greek Cyprus, whose entire banking system was based on the financial transactions of Russian oligarchs, made an impression on Turkey that a shared future with the EU is apparently not on the horizon.
Turkey will likely again be in the middle of many confrontations and conflicts in the coming yearCeylan Ozbudak
The EU’s decision to go through the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP) deal with the U.S. without including Turkey in the negotiation process means a $3 billion loss on Turkey’s side. All these leave the EU with no cards on the table to offer Turkey. Thus, in the last month of 2014, Turkey is quite clear about not taking any criticism from EU diplomats on how to conduct domestic policies mainly because the hopes for a full EU membership - or simply a mutual alliance – seem quite remote. For 2015, unless the EU adapts a tone of constructive criticism and an unbiased approach, Turkey is not likely to employ a more cooperative tone.
The question of Russia
Even though relations gradually got better, the natural borders of Turkey’s relations with Russia, which are drawn on the basis on ideological differences, will remain intact in 2015. Turkey will not apply sanctions due to Russia’s annexation of Crimea and activities in Ukraine. Turkey also has no intention to leave NATO and join the Shanghai Cooperation Organization.
Restarting the missile defense program
In 2013, Turkey selected Chinese corporation CPMIEC to build a missile defense system, leaving the option of U.S. firms Raytheon and Lockheed Martin behind in terms of technology sharing aspects, incurring severe criticism from NATO. Because there has been some disagreements with China on the issues of joint production, parallel talks with France are also on the way for a missile defense program. A joint defense program has a tendency to put both Turkey’s and the EUs eggs in the same basket and offer some thawing to relations in 2015.
Beside other faith groups, all interpretations of Islam should be treated equally in accordance with the Turkish state's principle of secularism. A new line of social reformation led to not only favoring those who support a more religious lifestyle, but also those who chose not to believe in any religious denomination. This change brought a new approach to the question of Alawi (Alawites) and, according to the latest meetings of Prime Minister Davutoğlu with Alawi religious leaders, by 2015 Alawis will be able to have their own share of aid from the budget of the Presidency of Religious Affairs and the djemevis will be recognized as places of worship. The institutionalization of this pluralistic approach also helps educate society to ignore hardline interpretations of the Islamic faith. We can safely say the consistent and integrative politics towards all faith groups in Turkey will lead to more alienation of Salafist interpretations. Even though Turkey borders parts of the Middle East with a highly radical tone, Turkish society will be one of the least affected from the threat of ISIS. The Western press created a false impression that the highest participation rate in ISIS is from Turkey. However, we now have the figures from direct observers that say the highest rates of participation are from Saudi Arabia, Morocco, Tunisia and in Europe, these numbers are followed by UK and France.
Coalition against ISIS
Turkey was determined from the very beginning that it would not take part in the aerial bombardment of civilian areas under the pretense of fighting ISIS. Despite a great deal of pressure, Turkey seeks to stay on the humanitarian aid side of the coalition.
In 2015, as I suggested before, Turkey’s diplomatic efforts will be centered around the formation of a safe zone on the Syrian border. It is important to understand that being a next door neighbor to the violence going on in the vicinity, Turkey places itself away from the politics of the situation and pays attention to realities on the ground, no matter how politically incorrect in the international arena this may be. The grievances created by the results of aerial bombing are only playing into the hands of radicals . On this subject, U.S. commentator, Phyllis Bennis, said in a statement that, “It should be eminently clear that we cannot bomb extremists into submission or disappearance. Every bomb recruits more supporters.”
Turkey’s image and press freedom
Following the latest operations in certain media outlets, the question of media freedom is once again on the table in Turkey. First of all, following the 2014 Freedom House report on Turkey, the majority of the Turkish people and politicians are less concerned about Turkey’s image than Turkey’s domestic stability. The report suggests that Turkey is doing worse than Tanzania, Namibia, Bangladesh, Mongolia and Uganda in the field of press freedom; basic reasoning skills are enough to see the absurdity of this suggestion and such assumptions lead only to Turkish people losing faith in the objectivity and logic of the international community. In 2015, I do not foresee a development in the PR machine of Turkey in the international arena.
Secondly, in Turkey, one-third of media corporations are strictly opposed to the policies of the government and harshly criticize the government. Moreover, the number of copies of pro-government papers sold every day constitute only one-quarter of the total number of newspaper daily sales. If the government genuinely had an active policy to hush the opposition, the statistics would be far different.
I wish I could suggest that 2015 will be more peaceful than 2014, but I cannot. Let us prepare and pray for strength to face the regional and global tribulations that are yet to unfold in our fragile world. Turkey will most likely remain strong internally, as more challenges emerge in the neighborhood.
Ceylan Ozbudak is a Turkish political analyst, television presenter, and executive director of Building Bridges, an Istanbul-based NGO. As a representative of Harun Yahya organization, she frequently cites quotations from the author in her writings. She can be followed on Twitter via @ceylanozbudak