Today’s Zaman – November 18, 2015 – Turkey and the GCC countries

I tried to summarize in my last article (“Turkey viewed from the Middle East”) the views of several scholars and opinion leaders from all over the world whom I met during an international forum in Abu Dhabi on Nov. 1 and 2.

Today, I will summarize the same opinion leaders’ views on Turkey’s relations with Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) countries, on the Kurdish issue and on the Nov. 1 election in Turkey.
Turkey-GCC relations
The general feeling among the opinion leaders was that relations between Turkey and GCC countries are far below the level where they were at two years ago. Qatar is the only GCC country that is maintaining cordial relations with Turkey. Relations with the other GCC countries seem to have been negatively affected by the rhetoric of the Turkish leadership in criticizing the GCC support for the Abdel Fattah el-Sisi regime in Egypt. The GCC countries are worried about the strength of the Muslim Brotherhood in Arab countries.

Both Turkey and the GCC countries seem to have understood that a thawing in relations is needed. Steps are being taken to improve them. I noticed concrete indications of it in Abu Dhabi.
Kurdish issue
The Kurdish issue was raised by many participants of the forum. It was also raised during the Q&A panel session by Vitali Naumkin, the director of the Russian Institute of Oriental Studies. All participants with whom I discussed this subject admitted Turkey is conducting a legitimate fight against the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK). This organization is on the list of terrorist organizations in NATO and EU member countries. Some of these countries support Turkey’s anti-PKK campaign wholeheartedly, others half-heartedly, but they all support it.

Almost all Iraqi participants and many other participants of the forum, however, differed from this mainstream view, criticizing Turkey for the attacks it has been conducting in the Kandil Mountains or in northern Iraq. They believe these air strikes violate Iraq’s sovereignty.

Very few participants agree with Turkey’s view of placing the PKK in the same basket with the Democratic Union Party (PYD), the strongest Kurdish political party in Syria, or its military branch the People’s Protection Units (YPG). They believe the international community badly needs the support of the YPG in its campaign against the Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant (ISIL). Actually the YPG seems to be the only ground force that is able to carry out effective military operations against ISIL. The Syrian regime forces have other priorities and therefore cannot be easily deployed against ISIL in the areas where the YPG is active.

I noticed that some experts were not familiar with the intricacies of the Turkish-YPG (or PYD) relations. Turkey does not trust the YPG because it is worried that while helping the international community to expel ISIL from the provinces adjacent to Turkey, it will also dislodge the Arab and Turkmen population of the area and settle Kurds there, thus creating a belt of cantons inhabited by Kurds along the Turkish-Syrian border. Turkey has made it abundantly clear it will not allow this to happen.
Results of the Nov. 1 election
Another subject that I had a chance to discuss extensively with the participants of the forum was the results of the Nov. 1 election in Turkey. The results were a big surprise for many Turkey experts. But they were a surprise for Turks and even members of the Justice and Development Party (AK Party) as well. There is a widespread expectation among Turkey observers that the ruling party may take bold steps in many areas by using the position of strength that it now enjoys as a result of the election. These steps may be taken by resuming the settlement process, which is also called the Kurdish opening. Turkey’s Syria policy could be reassessed and realigned with the realities on the ground. Steps may be taken to put relations with all Middle Eastern countries back on track.

Briefly, the Middle Eastern — especially GCC — countries expect to normalize relations with Turkey. Turkey now has everything to fulfill this expectation. If wisdom prevails, this is what has to happen. However it remains to be seen whether it will happen.

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