The Impact of Turkey's Presidential Election on the World
|"The illustration of the Turkish flag being waved by the crowd. (GETTY IMAGES via BBC INDONESIA)"|
The outcome of the Turkish presidential election held on May 28 could potentially bring significant changes in Turkey's global relations. Under President Recep Tayyip Erdogan's leadership, Turkey has angered Western allies by forging close ties with Russia and involving Turkish forces in conflicts in Iraq, Syria, and Libya. The opposition candidate, Kemal Kilicdaroglu, promises a more pro-Western stance and less interference in foreign affairs.
Turkey's Handling of Syrian Refugees
Turkey is officially home to approximately 3.7 million registered Syrian refugees who fled their war-torn country, similar to refugees from other nations like Afghanistan. President Erdogan stated that Turkey "cannot handle" such a large number of refugees. Both Erdogan and Kemal Kilicdaroglu express the desire to "normalize" relations with Syria to facilitate the repatriation of refugees.
|"Syrian refugees fled to Turkey after ISIS seized parts of the country and amidst the civil war. (EPA via BBC INDONESIA)"|
The Syrian refugees sought shelter in Turkey after ISIS gained control of parts of the country and during the ongoing civil war. (EPA via BBC INDONESIA) However, this means that the refugees would return to living under the authoritarian regime of President Bashar Al Assad.
This month, Turkish media quoted Kilicdaroglu stating, "I will repatriate all refugees once I am elected as president, period." He threatened to withdraw from the agreement with the European Union, in which Turkey agreed to accommodate millions of Syrian refugees, preventing them from crossing into EU countries to seek asylum. Kilicdaroglu claimed that the EU had not fulfilled its obligations under the agreement.
Turkey's Changing Relations with the West
Since the establishment of the Republic of Turkey in 1923, the country has traditionally been an ally of Western powers. Turkey boasts one of the largest armies in NATO, the Western defense alliance, and has sought to join the European Union. However, President Erdogan has repeatedly depicted Western nations as "imperialists" or "unfair." Under his leadership, Turkey has strengthened its ties with Russia. In 2019, Turkey purchased a significant number of Russian S-400 air defense missile systems. In retaliation, the US removed Turkey from the international consortium developing the F-35 fighter jet.
Turkey also blocked Sweden's application to enter NATO following Russia's invasion of Ukraine, claiming that Sweden had concealed Turkey's enemies.
|"Kemal Kilicdaroglu pledged to enhance Turkey's relations with Western countries. (ANADOLU AGENCY/MAHMUT SERDAR ALAKUS via BBC INDONESIA)"|
If Kilicdaroglu is elected as President of Turkey, he would focus on improving relations with Western countries, according to Galip Delay from Chatham House, a foreign affairs think tank in London. "He will have more formal relations with the West. Foreign policy will not be as personalized as during President Erdogan's era, but more diplomatic." Kilicdaroglu has stated that as president, he would resubmit Turkey's application to join the European Union. He would also ensure compliance with the decisions of the European Court of Human Rights in Turkey. However, by threatening to withdraw from the agreement with the EU to accommodate millions of Syrian refugees, he has demonstrated his readiness to confront Western powers.
|"Turkey has supplied Bayraktar drones to Ukraine. (GETTY IMAGES via BBC INDONESIA)"|
Turkey's Policy Regarding the Ukraine Conflict
Turkey has sought to balance its support for both Russia and Ukraine since the beginning of the war. The country has refused to impose Western sanctions on Russia but has also sold military-grade Bayraktar drones to Ukraine. Turkey has also acted as an intermediary in agreements allowing Ukrainian grain exports through the Black Sea to the rest of the world. If Kilicdaroglu becomes president, he might show less favoritism towards Russia, says Hamdullah Baycar from the University of Exeter. "He won't have such a close relationship (with Russia)," he said. "But again, he won't be hostile towards Russia either."
Turkey's Relations with the Middle East
In Libya, Turkish forces support the Government of National Accord, based in the capital city of Tripoli, against rebel forces in the eastern region led by General Haftar. "Turkey has had business interests in Libya for a long time and wants to see the country stabilized," said Dr. Begum Zorlu from City University in London.
In Iraq and Syria, Turkish forces fight against the People's Protection Units (YPG) and elements of the Kurdistan Workers' Party (PKK), which is banned in Turkey and many other countries as a terrorist organization. The Turkish government suspects the YPG of supporting the PKK. This has angered the US, which views the YPG as one of its main allies in Syria opposing the regime of President Bashar Al Assad. Kilicdaroglu states that, as president, he would adopt a policy of "non-intervention" in foreign affairs. However, it is unclear whether he would withdraw Turkish forces from Iraq, Syria, or Libya. "There are many nationalists within Kilicdaroglu's opposition alliance who would oppose that policy," said Dr. Zorlu.
|"Turkish forces have been fighting against the PKK and other Kurdish groups in the northern regions of Iraq. (GETTY IMAGES via BBC INDONESIA)"|
Turkey's Relations with China
Turkey's relationship with China revolves around trade and finance.
Turkey has joined China's Belt and Road Initiative to enhance trade relations. Turkey has also received loans from China.
|"China has supplied Sinovac vaccines to Turkey. (GETTY IMAGES via BBC INDONESIA)"|
The Erdogan government has been cautious not to criticize China's alleged repression of Uyghur Muslims, even though they are considered part of the Turkish ethnicity.
Kilicdaroglu claims that as president, he would address this issue with the Chinese government. However, Baycar is skeptical. "Kilicdaroglu is vocal about the Uyghurs now, but he might remain silent if he comes to power."
Will Turkey's Soft Power in Africa Change?
Over the past 20 years, Turkey has opened new embassies in many African countries. Turkey has used its soft power in the region, establishing schools and offering scholarships to Africans to study in Turkey. The country has also sold defense equipment, such as drones, to several African nations. Zorlu states that Erdogan's government has been active in Africa to solidify Turkey's status as a beloved nation among poor countries.
"President Erdogan has tried to gather a coalition of countries that feel neglected by the West," she said. However, she believes that Turkey's policy towards Africa is likely to remain the same even with a change in president.