Discover more from Turkey recap
Foreign policy priorities: What to expect from Turkey’s top parties
Often labeled pivotal and historical, it’s no secret Turkey’s May 14 elections are going to have massive impacts on the nation’s future.
Whoever wins the presidency and/or parliamentary majority will set Turkey on a path with long-lasting ramifications for its citizens, international partners and foes.
To gauge where Ankara’s foreign policy might be heading, we published a forecast in April, in which analysts saw distinct paths between Pres. Recep Tayyip Erdoğan’s highly-personalized international relations and Kemal Kılıçdaroğlu’s promised return to traditional diplomacy through institutions.
But where do the parties stand? After elections, a diverse set of lawmakers will compete or collaborate to push through their agendas, so we asked current and former party members what the foreign policy priorities might be for Turkey’s leading political parties.
What follows is a summary of their responses:
M. Emin Saraç, deputy chair and head of foreign policy for the AKP in İstanbul
In line with Erdoğan’s campaign pledges, Saraç said the AKP would aim to strengthen Turkey’s “status as a regional power and global actor” while consolidating gains “made in the past two decades.”
“The goal is to ensure the absolute security of our homeland, eliminate threats to our borders and further strengthen the vision of our state institutions focused on global foreign policy,” Saraç told Turkey recap.
On Syrian refugees and Russia
Claiming the AKP government has facilitated the return of more than 550,000 Syrians to “areas we have cleared of terrorism,” Saraç said another top priority is to prevent further waves of migration and to ensure the “voluntary and safe return of Syrians under temporary protection to their homeland in compliance with international law.”
Saraç also criticized the opposition alliance's stance on Syrian returns, asking: “Is the refugee issue a problem or is it a fascist approach presented by the opposition? This is debatable.”
On Russia, he said the AKP would continue political and economic relations with Russia as well as cooperation in the energy field. He added the relation would also continue to focus on mediation regarding the various conflict zones in which both nations are active or have influence.
“We will support the peaceful resolution of regional problems, especially the Syria and Ukraine issues, in line with international principles.”
“NATO is really important for us, but we have our red lines,” Saraç said. “We want things that will be seen as a threat to our country to be removed,” he said, referencing Sweden’s accession bid, which has yet to be approved by Ankara.
Asked if we could expect swift changes in the AKP’s stance on Sweden after elections, Saraç said: “We do not say no to any issue, as we see these issues expressed and put into action. But I think it would not be right to say yes or no if we are not sure, as is the case now.”
Pressed to specify if that means accession negotiations might continue further, he answered: “Time will tell.”
Musa Uçan, a member of Council of National Strategic Research (MİSAK), and an MHP member and delegate in İzmir
Uçan, an analyst who does not speak for MHP’s foreign policy team, said he believed the party’s top goal was a speedy resolution to the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict and the establishment of the Zangezur corridor, directly connecting Azerbaijan to its Nakhchivan exclave and Turkey.
“I believe the Karabakh conflict is going to be resolved as soon as possible [in addition to] normalization with Armenia, maybe even reactivating a border gate with Armenia if the Karabakh conflict is resolved.”
Through improved Armenia ties, Uçan said Turkey could unlock a key transport corridor that would boost regional economies and facilitate trade between Turkic nations, which would distribute oil, gas and raw materials to international markets through Turkish ports.
On Syria and East Med gas
With Russian and Iranian mediation, Uçan said rapprochement efforts between the Turkish and Syrian foreign ministries would continue. This year, he expects “at least a road map” regarding the return of Syrian refugees and Ankara-Damascus cooperation on maintaining the territorial integrity of Syria and countering terror groups.
“I won’t be surprised if Erdoğan announces the return of asylum seekers to Syria within two years,” Uçan told Turkey recap. “Erdoğan knows the rising rents, food, cars– the economic position is very related to asylum seekers. We are feeding millions in Turkey and millions in Syria.”
Uçan also noted eastern Mediterranean gas reserves would play a role in restoring Ankara’s relations with Middle Eastern nations, which could cooperate on exporting regional gas to European markets.
“Turkey is likely to seek an alliance with Egypt, Lebanon and even Syria and Israel,” Uçan said, adding Italian ports could be on the receiving end of LNG produced by this new energy alliance.
Faruk Loğoğlu, a former Turkish ambassador to the US and Turkish MFA undersecretary, and former CHP member of parliament
“After the elections, the resolution of the Syria issue should be Turkey’s number one priority,” said Loğoğlu, a retired CHP MP who does not speak for the current CHP administration. Another former ambassador with CHP ties, Namık Tan, echoed the same priority in a recent statement, with aims to repatriate Syrian refugees in Turkey.
Loğoğlu added it was unclear to him why Russia should be involved in mediating a dispute between two neighboring states. “It’s a regional matter,” he said.
He also said a CHP victory would come with immediate changes in foreign and domestic policies, both aimed at restoring Turkey’s relations with traditional NATO allies.
“In the first hundreds days or so of the new government, two of the immediate steps we’ll see include a return to the İstanbul Convention concerning women and the application of rulings by the ECHR,” Loğoğlu said.
On China and Western relations
Taking a broad view of CHP’s foreign policy stance, Loğoğlu highlighted the party would seek to prioritize sovereignty and autonomy in its decision-making, as Kılıçdaroğlu outlined in his speech titled “Ne Batı ne Doğu, bu Türk'ün Yolu” or “Neither West nor East, this is the Way of the Turk.”
“If you look at Turkey as a body, our head should be turned towards Europe and one of our arms should be extended towards the West while the other arm should be extended towards the East, Central Asia, the Turkic republics and China,” Loğoğlu told Turkey recap.
He continued, “Turkey is positioned historically, culturally, geographically, where it can – not play both sides of the game – but Turkey can enhance its relations in both directions to the benefit of both sides, so China should be on the Turkish radar screen, including reminders of the treatment of Uygur Turks.”
When asked how CHP might seek to rebuild strained relations with western nations, Loğoğlu said, the next Turkish government should first focus on resolving domestic problems, and the rest would follow.
“The trick is not what Europe or the US can do for Turkey, the trick is what Turkey can do for itself,” Loğoğlu said. “That means democracy, the restoration of the secular underpinnings of society, including and especially in the domain of education, a restoration of the rule of law and independence of the courts.”
He added, “Once Turkey makes progress along these lines, our relations, especially with Europe, will experience an improvement.”
Bilge Yılmaz, chairman of economic policies for the İYİ Party
Striking a similar tone to Loğoğlu, and adding the same disclaimer that he isn’t crafting his party’s foreign policy, Yılmaz said Turkey will have to focus on domestic and economic challenges, which can be resolved in parallel to some long-standing foreign disputes.
“We would like to establish stability, rule of law and then Turkey will need to renegotiate its Customs Union agreement with the European Union,” Yılmaz responded to a question by Turkey recap at a press meeting in İstanbul Wednesday.
On allies, FDI and supply chains
He also said Turkey should continue seeking an independent foreign policy and stronger trade relations with China, while keeping strong ties with NATO and western nations.
“At the end of the day, the way I see it as an economist, Turkey’s integrated in the western economy, the western alliance needs and benefits from Turkey’s allegiance,” which is “mutually beneficial,” Yılmaz said.
“I think the facts are such that Turkey’s long-term interests are in line with fixing its strategic partnership problems with the western alliance,” he continued. “In some ways, it has to go back to factory settings.”
“That doesn’t mean Turkey has to be hostile to China. Turkey and China have a lot of common interests,” but “most of the foreign capital that will flow into Turkey will be European-based.”
Once the “right policies” are in place, Yılmaz foresees a gradual acceleration of foreign direct investment (FDI) to Turkey. He predicts inflows in debt and equity markets would then further facilitate overhauls in the economy.
If the opposition wins and financial regulations are revised, Yılmaz said he would expect an inflow of $100 billion in portfolio investments in the first year, followed by snowballing FDI in the 12-24 month period.
As an economic advisor to the İYİ party, he would seek to steer investments to further develop Turkey’s role and capacity in global supply chains.
“The world is moving from efficiency-based supply chains to security-based supply chains,” Yılmaz told journalists Wednesday. “Many [businesses and nations] are bringing supply chains to countries that are geographically and politically closer to them.”
“When you look at Europe, Turkey and Poland have the biggest capacity,” he continued. “Poland’s capacity is mostly exhausted, so Turkey is mostly competing with smaller Balkan and eastern European countries, [against which] Turkey has a huge advantage in terms of labor, engineering quality, production experience and so on.”
Mustafa Kaya, deputy head of Saadet and chairman for foreign relations
Running on the list of CHP parliamentary candidates in İstanbul, Mustafa Kaya, said the opposition would focus on increasing relations with neighboring countries first.
“Second, we are focusing on increasing relations with Islamic countries,” he said, on behalf of his conservative Islamist party.
On Syrian refugees and EU relations
On the situation of Syrian refugees in Turkey, Kaya repeated Kemal Kılıçdaroğlu’s pledge to repatriate them.
“Within two years, our plan is to send them back,” he told Turkey recap, without wanting to elaborate on details apart from stressing that repatriation would be voluntary.
Kılıçdaroğlu also promised visa-free travel to the European Union for Turkish citizens within three months after being elected, a promise that seems difficult to fulfill given the bureaucratic procedures required for regulations in the Schengen zone, but it is a topic on which concrete steps could be taken.
Kaya perceived religion and bias as factors that were impeding progress on travel regulations between Turkey and the EU. He also said the party supported the continuation of Turkey’s EU candidacy.
“We’re supporting [accession talks], but we’re not sure if the European Union will accept us or not,” Kaya said. “For example, Romania, Bulgaria are being accepted as European Union countries. But Turkey, no. Why? Our identity is different, our religion is different.”
He added: “We are supporting [accession talks], but on equal conditions.”
Hişyar Özsoy, deputy chair of the HDP’s Foreign Affairs Commission
While the HDP and its soon-to-be successor, the Yeşil Sol Party, are not part of the main opposition bloc, Hişyar Özsoy said his party would support initiatives “as long as the opposition pursues a dialogue-oriented, peaceful foreign policy.”
The “top priority”, according to Özsoy, should be improving relations with European and western institutions to restructure Turkey's society and politics.
Özsoy criticized “Turkey's militarization of political conflicts in the eastern Mediterranean, in Libya, around Cyprus, Greece, Iraq over the last five, six, seven years.”
On European institutions and Syrian refugees
While pointing out strong relations with the Council of Europe, in particular, would be crucial for the rule of law in Turkey, he also noted Brussels has not been preparing for a change of government.
“We have actually communicated this [lack of preparation] a lot to European politicians and policymakers. They are so unprepared and they need to get prepared,” he told Turkey recap.
“If there is a change in the government, this government will be in need of some kind of support and cooperation and collaboration and institutional economic resources.”
He noted fears in Europe might be related to the fate of approximately 4 million Syrian refugees in Turkey, which the opposition has vowed to repatriate, as mentioned above.
“I think that the opposition is now so vocal about refugees because people are frustrated, people are angry, and there is a lot of anti-refugee racism in the country, so they want to capitalize on that for electoral purposes,” Özsoy said.
“But I don't think that they are going to send them in two years, which is impossible,” he continued. “You just can't do that. I think after the elections things will change, and I think the opposition will take a more restrained position on that.”
Though he agreed that the current system of temporary protection was not sustainable either, expecting many Syrians would eventually apply for citizenship.
“From a policy perspective, I don't think that many of these people are going back,” Özsoy said. “And I don't think that many of these people are going to Europe. Many of them will be absorbed and accommodated and become a part of the society in Turkey.”
Diego Cupolo, co-founder + editor @diegocupolo
Gonca Tokyol, freelance journalist @goncatokyol
Ingrid Woudwijk, freelance journalist @deingrid
Verda Uyar, freelance journalist @verdauyar
Gökalp Badak, editorial intern @gklpbdk