What’s more important to Turkey than Syria?

Ceylan Ozbudak

Published: Updated:

I still remember reading the encouraging lines of Albert Reynolds, who was twice Taoiseach of Ireland and thinking when will God show such a promising start to my country. He said “I call on everyone of goodwill both in Ireland and abroad to join now in ensuring that the beginning of peace becomes a reality, before this year is out. Let us together open a new era in our history.”

Before this year is out, we will be seeing a new era for Turkey. With the three major cases going on, Turkey will be free of deep state crime rings, coup plotters and military dictatorship supporters.

This is good news for Turkey, and the region, but also the international community. Let me explain how and why.

The 1982 Constitution of Turkey was drawn up and passed in the immediate aftermath of the1980 coup, under the guardianship of the military. A leading expert on the Turkish military, Ümit Cizre, undertook a deeper public role in 2006 by editing an authoritative and pioneering almanac on Turkey’s security sector and the lack of democratic controls over it. The message was clear: We needed to expand our repertoire of toleration in democratic settings, increase participation in democracy by different sectors of society, including people of a religious persuasion. We needed to reform our military, judiciary and political system and give full guardianship back to civil government.

The government acted. We have witnessed the results of Ergenekon trial, which led to dissolving a deep state organization inside Turkey and this week, it is followed by the “28th February case,” by which the instigators of the most recent coup in Turkey were put to trial. We already had five hearings of the case and it will be followed by the ‘sledgehammer case’ hearings on the 9th of September by which the authoritarian structure inside the Turkish military is expected to be dissolved. The “28th February case” was the joint work of the military, media, universities, the capital, the bureaucratic system and the jurisdiction. “28th February” issue represented a dark, ultra-secular dictatorship era, which fought the people of Turkey, humiliated and insulted hundreds of thousands of girls with headscarves, even forced some civil society figures to leave the country, such as Fethullah Gulen, a moderate Muslim scholar.

The start of a new adventure

For Turks, these are more important themes than a Syria intervention, a coup in Egypt, unrest in Iraq or a possible missile shipment from Russia. This means more freedom in the public space, the judiciary, journalism, politics and the economy. For Turkey, today is the start of a new adventure, new challenges to face, new memories to make, and new obstacles to overcome. The end of an era of coups and government instability in Turkey heralds the dawn of a new era of diplomatic opportunity and progress—not only for the good of the nation, but for the entire region. Much has been made of Turkey's recent economic successes and rightfully so. But in the decades to come, Turkey's internal stability will result in greater diplomatic progress in the region.

The Middle East certainly has no shortage of complicated issues to address at any given moment.

Among the disputes in the Middle East, a new breeze is blowing, and a world refreshed by freedom seems reborn in Turkey.

Ceylan Ozbudak

Turkey, a bridge between Asia and Europe, makes it among top tier ranked nations in terms of size, population, wealth and military power. As a regional power, Turkey is at the epicenter of a very challenging place with problematic countries as neighbors. Being the sole secular, democratic country amongst the 43 Muslim countries, Turkey emerges as a bridge between North-South, East-West, Muslims-Christians, fundamentalists and secularists. Turkey plays an important role in the encouragement of the newly independent Central Asian Turkic Republics to embrace a western model. With internal matters now settled, Turkey can be more assertive and take an expanded diplomatic role in aiding the solutions to affairs in the region.

Egypt has suffered a military coup, and few nations can claim to have undergone this bitter experience, and to have recovered from it as successfully as Turkey. Egypt is experiencing the first steps in the process of democratic destruction and rebuilding which comes with any coup. Turkey is now finishing this journey, and has a vast amount of experience and insight to offer Egyptians in terms of making that voyage as quickly and as painlessly as possible. Military juntas and the oppression that comes with it don't just go away. Wishing does not make it so. They leave when they are forced to do so, through a combination of internal and external pressures.

Changing political fortunes

These three trials in Turkey should be seen by the Egyptian people as evidence of what positive things can happen when the proper steps are taken and the desire is great to rebuild democracy within your nation. These cases should also serve as a stark warning to those in the Egyptian military regime who think violence, oppression, and corruption are the means with which to control the nation. Political fortunes can change very quickly in the shifting sands of Egypt. Today they might be sending people off for trial, but tomorrow they may be facing court themselves. They should remember to choose carefully and act wisely. History will not forgive them, and perhaps neither will the people.

A stable Turkey is also useful in aiding the Arab-Israeli peace process. In the case of Israel and Palestine, the path to a peace deal is at this point well known. Borders must be agreed upon, security guarantees must be in place, Jerusalem, settlements, and most importantly, cooperation and reconciliation must replace decades of dispute. Turkey is no stranger to a lengthy border dispute with an armed and angry population. But through peaceful negotiation and a commitment by civil society organizations to patient, anti-communist intellectual struggle, a peaceful resolution with the PKK seems possible and sustainable.

Turkey is one of the few nations in the region trusted by both sides in this dispute between Israel and Palestine. In order to build trust between these two nations, a trusted mediator is one of the first and most important requirements. Turkey can serve this role well, and help bring reluctant parties on both sides together to find a final agreement and end decades of hardship for all parties. None of this is possible, without the now assured internal stability (despite occasional protests stemming from environmental issues or some protests we are expecting before the election season). It will allow Turkey to reach out into other parts of the region and make a difference in their situations too. You cannot have assertive foreign diplomatic maneuvers and take on a politically risky negotiating stance, when you have to constantly look over your shoulders at home.

Although Turkey has not gone through internal political strife and civil war in the modern era on the scale that is taking place in Syria, they still have much to contribute to the Syrian people diplomatically. Turkey will have a lot to offer to a new Syrian government. Turkey has already formed alliances and friendships with every group who would seem to be in line to step into power. Turkey showed moral courage and strong friendship to the moderate elements of the opposition, long before many other nations even knew their names. And although the Turkish government is no fan of the more radical elements of the opposition, they can negotiate with them constructively in the future (if the worst case scenario occurs and these groups grab power in parts of Syria). The PKK experience taught the Turkish government how to deal with armed and hostile groups, and if the worst happens, they will be ready to face it with courage and a clear vision. Having a stability at home means we can be the sturdy shoulders the new Syrian government can lean on to be stronger sooner and rebuild a functioning society as quickly as possible. Turkey can do a great deal to marginalize the radical elements and empower the rightful moderates to form a government with a chance for success.

Among the disputes in the Middle East, a new breeze is blowing, and a world refreshed by freedom seems reborn in Turkey. These trials herald the liberation of Turkey from the clutches of military rule, which in the past made Turkey look like a military republic. Erdoğan’s critics are wrong to call this a confrontation with Turkey’s recent history. In democracies, criminal laws exist to punish individuals in line with their crimes; not to settle scores with the past. Confronting the past is possible only by making reformist laws that will save the country from corrupt systems and that is what is happening in the Turkish Parliament. Holding the culprits of a coup accountable for their actions and introducing a freer constitution with reform will make Turkey more assertive in its foreign policy, make it a reliable ally for the West, and an example for the region.


Ceylan Ozbudak is a Turkish political analyst, television presenter, and executive director of Building Bridges, an Istanbul-based NGO. She can be followed on Twitter via @ceylanozbudak

Disclaimer: Views expressed by writers in this section are their own and do not reflect Al Arabiya English's point-of-view.