The Leader of Turkish Foreign Policy is Becoming a Distinguished Figure in World Politics
Since becoming the Foreign Minister of Turkey, Mevlüt Çavuşoğlu has encountered many problems facing Turkey’s foreign relations. It is likely that the challenges he faced in the span of a year would far exceeds what his counterpart from a Scandinavian country could in his life time. Turkey is an exceptionally dynamic country due to its geographical position as well as demographic structure, which also makes it uniquely positioned to address regional problems.
When Mr. Çavuşoğlu assumed office, Turkey was already facing severe problems like the Syrian conflict, ISIS, the PKK, migration to Europe through Turkey, the interminable issues in Cyprus, among a myriad of other issues. Coping with one of those problems is quite a feat but handling all of them together at the same time needs a very hard-working mind.
Çavuşoğlu’s educational background and previous positions at the Council of Europe and work with UNDP made him the ideal candidate to assume the onerous task of managing Turkey’s international relations.
Following his first day in office, in August 2014, dramatic events have increased his responsibilities even more. He was immediately tested by a hostage crisis as 48 of Musul Consulate employees were held hostage by ISIS for 101 days but this crisis was peacefully solved within Çavuşoğlu’s first month in office. Soon after, in November 2015, Turkish jets downed a Russian fighter plane triggering an enormous crisis between Turkey and Russia. Solving such a crisis and normalizing Turkish-Russian relations took years and serious efforts by the Turkish Foreign Ministry and by Mr. Çavuşoğlu.
Çavuşoğlu also demonstrated great adroitness in managing the fallout from domestic terrorism. There were major explosions in Ankara between October 2015 and March 2016, which caused hundreds of people to lose their lives. The reverberations from those attacks were felt all around the world and dealing with this issue needed much delicate diplomatic experience.
On July 15, 2016, FETÖ (Fethullah Terrorist Organization) attempted a coup to takeover Turkey. The attempt was not successful but cost hundreds of Turkish lives. Following the attempt, there were mixed messages from around the world. Some of them condemned the attempt while some expressed ambivalence. A deep analysis following the attempt has shown that FETÖ has established a parallel governance network both in the government and military as Gülen’s thralls had taken over key positions and engorged on Turkey’s wealth to enrich themselves.
Alerting the world to the dangers of FETÖ became the main task of Mr. Çavuşoğlu and the Turkish Foreign Ministry. FETÖ not only has ties through its schools in almost every country but has managed to obscure its hidden agenda by posing as a charitable group. Mr. Çavuşoğlu, therefore, has the difficult objective of telling this situation to all possible countries and convincing them to sever their ties with FETÖ. This is obviously a very tiring job.
In December 2016 the Russian Ambassador Karlov was assassinated by a police officer in Ankara. It was later understood that the police officer was a member of FETÖ. This has put additional burden to the shoulders of Mr. Çavuşoğlu as at that time the relations between Turkey and Russia was already very tense because of the plane incident. It is a diplomatic miracle that Turkey and Russia maintain close relations and continue to cooperate on various issues.
One of the main issues troubling Turkey today is the Syrian problem. Turkey officially deployed its military in Syria in August 2016 but not before 4 million Syrian refugees, many of whom still live in Turkish cities and refugee camps. This is a huge domestic and international problem which is not possible to be solved in a close future. In September 2015, a substantial group of immigrants started moving to Europe. This group was mostly comprised of Syrians but not limited only with them. Turkey permitted this migration as a reaction to the insensitive declarations of European nations relating to the Syrian refugee problem. The EU immediately became aware of the looming problem and were convinced to provide financial help to Turkey so as to take care of the refugees. That was a great diplomatic success by Turkish Government and of course by Mr. Çavuşoğlu.
Not all of Turkey’s problems have had such smooth conclusions and required great diplomatic efforts to resolve. In March 2017, a Turkish Minister was accosted by the Dutch government because of her community engagement efforts with the Turks living in the Netherlands. Due to the rising influence of right-wing sentiments in that country, the Dutch authorities did not allow her to engage the Turkish community and the minister was detained by the Dutch police. The traditionally robust relations between Turkey and the Netherlands reached a nadir as Turkish citizens communicated their disapproval through demonstrations against the Dutch government. Coping with this crisis was also a very difficult task but the relationship between the two countries have thankfully returned to its traditional course.
President Erdoğan is unsparing in his criticism of injustice around the world. This quality has led him to verbally clash with Israel, Greece, US, Germany, Syria, Holland, and the EU on occasion. Unfortunately, states rarely learn from criticism and international politics rarely appreciates such candor. Carrying out the functions of a foreign minister for such a forthright President needs extra work due to the need to mend fences with easily-offended countries. As Çavuşoğlu successfully fulfilled that task for a very long time, while also succeeding in establishing the direction of Turkish foreign policy, he became a central figure in global diplomacy. Time and again Çavuşoğlu showcased the hallmarks of a great diplomat and therefore commands respect in the international arena.