No one benefits if Turkey slides into chaos

The country’s key position between Asia and Europe makes it vital that all nations work with it to preserve stability

PUBLISHED : Saturday, 07 January, 2017, 12:41am
UPDATED : Saturday, 07 January, 2017, 12:41am

The possibility of Turkey spiraling into instability like its neighbours Syria and Iraq worries the world. Its position straddling Asia and Europe makes it a vital part of China’s “One Belt, One Road” trade and infrastructure project. The West sees Turkey as part of the solution in the Middle East, and for Russia and religious, ethnic and extremist groups, the country has strategic importance. Nations need to be working with, not against, it.

Terrorist attacks like the mass shooting at an Istanbul nightclub during a New Year’s celebration that killed 39 people, including foreigners, have become increasingly common. Hundreds have lost their lives over the past 18 months in dozens of bombings and shootings variously blamed on Islamic State and Kurdish extremists, including four deaths in a car-bombing on Thursday night that underlined how critical the situation is. A further 265 died in a coup attempt against President Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s government last July. His rejection of Turkey’s secular heritage in favour of political Islam and authoritarian tendencies that have led to the jailing of thousands of opponents and the silencing of media have caused deep political divisions.

Secular citizens of Turkey have never felt so alone

Circumstances are complicated by Turkey’s being a member of Nato, by its backing of rebels in Syria’s civil war, its hosting of 3 million refugees from the conflict under a deal with the European Union and its years-long bid to join the EU. Negotiations over its membership have been frozen over criticism of Erdogan’s crackdown on opponents, prompting threats to open the asylum-seeker gates. Relations with ally the US, which is fighting IS from Turkish airbases, have been soured over Washington’s support of Kurdish combatants. That has in part led to Erdogan patching up a frosty relationship with Russia, which is also at loggerheads with the West and a supporter of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad.

US president-elect Donald Trump has promised a new policy towards the Middle East. His admiration for Russian counterpart Vladimir Putin could help smooth ties with Turkey, although it may fray relations with the EU. Erdogan, frustrated by the drawn-out talks with the EU, has suggested instead his country could join the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation, the regional security bloc dominated by China and Russia.

Turkey has shared interests with China, Russia, the EU and the US. There are also differences – in China’s case, Turkish support for Muslim Uygur separatists in Xinjiang. But there is too much to lose should Turkey descend into chaos. Diplomacy and cooperation on matters like intelligence-sharing, and economic and military support can improve chances for stability.