The meetings between Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan and the leaders of NATO and the European Union on Thursday in Brussels are the most important ones in recent decades.
In just a few years, the country that was once praised as a pillar of stability and as a branch of the West in a volatile region has transformed into a pariah of the European system. Putting the blame for this turn of events exclusively on Erdogan does not take into consideration the fact that the Turks have for centuries been trying to balance between East and West. Europe must build a special relationship with Turkey rather than try to make it European.
Turkey’s most pressing problem at the moment is the Kurdish issue. The process for Turkey’s “democratization” and its alignment with European principles also had the effect of strengthening the movement for Kurdish autonomy and even secession from Turkey. The alliance of the West with the Kurds of Iraq and Syria, in particular, could possibly open up a “Kurdish” corridor to the Mediterranean Sea, south of Turkey’s border.
Erdogan is expected to propose the strengthening of cooperation between NATO member-states in order to deal with the threat of Islamic terrorism – and there are no disagreements over this. The Turkish leader will attempt to prove that the Kurdish allies of the West are linked to the PKK group which is active inside Turkey and has been declared a terrorist organization by both the EU and Washington.
But he is not expected to get this particular message through. On the other hand, it doesn’t appear likely that there will be a fallout over this issue.
The conflict between the Turkish president and the West, and especially the Europeans, has been festering for some time now. Tensions intensified dramatically after July 2016 and the failed coup. Support for Erdogan from most European leaders and Washington was lukewarm at best. And almost immediately Western leaders criticized him for his excessive crackdown on groups within Turkey and his government’s handling of the referendum in April. But one would have to be naive to think there would be no reaction.
What is essentially happening is Europe is refusing to accept that Erdogan is a reality it cannot overturn, and a reality Greece cannot ignore. Some would perhaps say that apart from the politics of “principles,” there is also realpolitik.