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Antalya Diplomacy Forum: New chapter in Turkiye's foreign relations

Flags of Turkey and USA seen neat Esenboga Airport in Ankara, Turkey on October 17, 2019 [Evrim Aydın / Anadolu Agency]
Flags of Turkey and USA seen neat Esenboga Airport in Ankara, Turkey on October 17, 2019 [Evrim Aydın / Anadolu Agency]

Turkiye's foreign policy has tested several new initiatives and approaches in recent years to advance its interests in all regions of importance. Some have succeeded, some failed, some never took off and some even backfired.

Since the Syrian crisis, analysts have criticised Turkiye's policy of zero problem with its neighbours (started earlier in the 2000s), and the objective to achieve strategic depth. With Syria's civil war raging, Turkiye, like most of its neighbours, plunged into a deep crisis, including the rise of Daesh, the PKK and Al-Qaeda, which threatened the continuity of the state system in the Middle East. Turkiye had little help to offer these States to rescue them from the crisis. Turkiye had first to protect its own borders before it could have stopped civil unrest in its neighbouring States. Several violent non-state actors – Daesh, the PKK and Al-Qaeda – were in control of a huge swathe of territories in Syria, Iraq, Libya and elsewhere. Turkiye failed to mobilise necessary international support, including its military allies in NATO, to protect its security interests. Turkiye and its Western allies even openly disagreed on how to control the spread of the PKK, Daesh and Al-Qaeda and stop the mass displacement of the population and their migration to Turkiye and European borders. In 2015, when Turkiye shot down a Russian jet for violating its airspace, NATO members' lukewarm response forced Turkiye to seek an extraordinary diplomatic reaching out to Russia and confidence building to avoid the recurrence of similar incidents. The 2017 Qatar crisis in the Persian Gulf forced another strategic puzzle on Turkiye, in which Turkiye had to choose either Qatar or the blockading quartet. Differences over the Libyan conflict, Eastern Mediterranean, 2020 Azerbaijan-Armenian conflict and Cyprus issue continued.

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If the two editions of the Antalya Diplomacy Forum (ADF), the flagship event of Turkiye's Foreign Ministry, are any indication, Turkish officials have been quietly working to find a new approach to break the stalemate. Even though Turkiye previously hosted several other high-profile events of diplomatic exchanges, the Antalya Diplomacy Forum brings together both intellectuals and stakeholders, and offers a forum to find solutions through direct dialogue. The staff at Turkiye's Foreign Ministry carefully designed the Forum to bring together leaders with whom Turkiye needs to build confidence and trust. Weeks before Israeli President, Isaac Herzog, visited Ankara, Turkish President, Recep Tayyip Erdogan, had visited the United Arab Emirates, a country most critical of Turkiye's regional politics. Days before the formal launch of the ADF, President Herzog visited Ankara, signalling the big shifts in the region. A day before the Forum, Russia and Ukraine's Foreign Ministers met in Antalya to iron out their differences in reaching a sustainable cease-fire. The Antalya Diplomacy Forum was followed by two important European visits, by the Greek Prime Minister and German Chancellor. The events and speeches at the Antalya Diplomacy Forum reflected these shifts. Turkish Jewish representatives who played an important role in Turkish-Israeli rapprochement were happily roaming around and exchanging thoughts. The President of Alliance of Rabbis of the Islamic World, Mendy Chitrik, a native Turkish national, explained to me the good impact of improving Turkish-Israeli relations on Turkiye's Jewish population. The Taliban's Acting Foreign Minister, Amir Khan Muttaqi, and other Afghan representatives were in attendance. Muttaqi not only addressed his first-ever diplomatic event but also held direct dialogues with several Western diplomats, including from the US.

It appears that the Turkish Foreign Ministry chose the forum to send specific messages to the world about a new approach in the country's diplomacy. Their theme of "Recoding Diplomacy" could be easily decoded in three points: first, as the inaugural speech of President Erdogan pointed out, the global order needs to be more inclusive. He did not rule out Turkiye's ambitions for permanent UN Security Council membership. Second, Turkiye wants to forgo political differences and focus on economic and security cooperation with all countries. While Israeli-Turkish rapprochement aims to make the East Mediterranean a region of energy security for all, Greece-Turkiye rapprochement has opened a new chapter to overcome their differences in the East Med and Cyprus. Third, the Russian invasion of Ukraine is seen as the most severe challenge to Europe's security, and Turkiye and Greece are on the same page to stop Ukraine from falling to Russia's control.

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The Forum was established in 2021, a year before the Russian invasion. The basic idea of the Antalya Diplomacy Forum was to reset Turkiye's foreign relations discourse, from an overly politics-centrism to policy-centric to offer new perspectives on global challenges. Therefore, it was not surprising that the 2021 and 2022 Forum did not include the issues Turkiye could have serious disagreements on with any country, including political problems and conflicts of the Middle East, Asia, East Med or the West. It rather included far more universal issues like food security, environmental problems, sustainable development, energy security, economic diplomacy, artificial intelligence, livelihoods, the coronavirus pandemic and global health. The forum seems to be crafted to create a new agenda for Turkiye, to create "Global Turkiye" similar to the "Global Britain" policy. The Forum in the last two editions has given much time to little-discussed geographies like Latin America, the Asia Pacific and Africa. Even though the first Forum in 2021 was held against the backdrop of the Azerbaijan-Armenia war, the Forum had, however, sought "new opportunities for regional peace and cooperation" jointly with Russia, Armenia and Azerbaijan. A year later, the Armenian Foreign Minister himself was attending the 2022 Forum to declare the normalisation of relations and opening of the borders. For the Middle East, the Forum sought "Common Grounds" in which the foreign ministers of Bahrain, Palestine, Algeria and Kuwait spoke for a new regional politics after Qatar-Saudi and Turkiye-Gulf rapprochement. The Forum has also rearticulated Turkiye's Europe rhetoric, asking Europe for "clarity of mind".

At a time when Turkiye's foreign policy had been severely criticised for being "neo-Ottoman," "conservative" and "Pan-Islamist," the Antalya Diplomacy Forum offers a different picture of what precisely Turkish foreign policy, at least the official diplomacy, intends to do. The Antalya Diplomacy Forum presented a different Turkiye that is ambitious, yet seeks a respectable place in global politics with the help of more conciliatory steps. With this new diplomatic approach it called "the Antalya Initiative", Turkiye would like to speed up compromises with all regional rivals in the Middle East, Asia and Europe. In recent years, Turkiye's Asia Anew Initiative and Africa policy have brought it new diplomatic and trade opportunities, expanding Turkiye's defence, trade and cultural reach.

The agenda of the 2022 Forum included a historic visit of the Armenian Foreign Minister to formalise the ongoing normalisation process. No sooner had he returned, than the Armenian Foreign Minister announced that his country was ready for diplomatic relations and opening the borders. The resumption of Turkiye-Armenia relations should be seen as one of the most important achievements of Turkiye's foreign diplomacy in the era of troubled foreign relations. Furthermore, the presence of the Bangladesh Foreign Minister and his address at a session on the Asia Anew Initiative was itself a big change as Turkiye and Bangladesh have successfully repaired their ties in less than four years. With this progress, it is expected that Turkiye may be preparing for the next big steps, for a new beginning with great powers like India and China. However, Turkiye has yet to use its excellent trade relations with India and China for greater political, cultural and strategic cooperation. India and Turkiye have disagreed on various issues, yet they have made progress on trade and security cooperation. With its Antalya Diplomacy Forum, Turkiye may soon cover the long distance between Turkiye and the world and project itself as a facilitator of a peaceful, inclusive and multilateral world order.

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The views expressed in this article belong to the author and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Middle East Monitor.

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