This article proceeds from the premise that there has long been fundamental continuity both in the overall strategic vision of the Turkish leadership, and in the centrality of the Kurdish question in shaping the pursuit of that vision. This was true of Ahmet Davutoğlu’s tenure in office as foreign minister (May 2009 – August 2014) and then prime minister (August 2014 – May 2016), despite the fact that it can be divided into two sub-phases which to many observers appeared radically opposed to each other: the first from 2009 to about 2011 and best characterized by Davutoğlu’s famous “zero problems” formulation, and the second from 2011 to 2016 marked by escalating crises with almost all Turkey’s neighbors.
This article argues that recent upheavals in Turkey’s domestic and regional dynamics – the transition to a more crisis-ridden foreign policy around 2011 and the breakdown of the “Kurdish Opening” in 2014-2015 – arose not from any fundamental change in strategic vision, but primarily from external developments such as the collapse of central authority in Syria and Iraq. These developments emboldened the PKK and its offshoots to adopt a more intransigent attitude, and prompted Turkey to add a hard power component to its previously soft powerdriven effort to expand its regional sphere of influence.With events unfolding rapidly, however, Turkey’s leadership now confronts some urgent decisions with implications both for its long-standing strategic vision and for the future character of the Turkish state.
Turkish Prime Minister Binali Yıldırım met with the President of the Iraqi Kurdistan Region on February 27, 2017. AA PHOTO / UTKU UÇRAK
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