Turkey’s main opposition Republican People’s Party’s (CHP) foreign policy stance and its support for President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan’s regional moves serve to legitimize the aggressive maneuvers of the Turkish president and increase his support among the public for those assertive foreign policy actions.
President Erdoğan, with the support of coalition partners the ultranationalist Nationalist Movement Party (MHP) and the neo-nationalist (Ulusalcı) and hardline secularist Homeland Party (VP), is pursuing an aggressive foreign policy that has isolated Turkey in its region and beyond, triggering anti-Turkey alliances in the Mediterranean and the Middle East. Those countries are pursuing a regional containment policy towards Turkey by enhancing regional cooperation.
Despite the fact that Turkey has lost its regional influence and international reputation and has been isolated in recent years, President Erdoğan has dramatically expanded his coalition on foreign policy issues and received support from the opposition parties with the exception of the Peoples’ Democratic Party (HDP). Due to assistance from the parties, the Turkish government has been able to carry out its foreign policy agenda without significant criticism in parliament and has increased the support of the Turkish people for it.
In some cases, main opposition CHP leader Kemal Kılıçdaroğlu and party officials have insisted on a more aggressive tone in foreign policy and have joined Erdoğan’s camp while pretending to criticize him.
Following the Turkish government’s decision to withdrew the seismic research vessel Oruç Reis from contested waters in the eastern Mediterranean, the CHP executive board released a statement on September 13 calling on the government to fight against giving up the nation’s deserved rights and defining the withdrawal of the Oruç Reis as a ”concession.”
“Turkey has been isolated in foreign policy and fallen into a situation of making concessions in its rightful causes as the parliament is no longer a center of power,” the statement said.
Following the release of the CHP statement, Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlüt Çavuşoğlu had to emphasize that the Oruç Reis had returned to port for routine periodic maintenance and that it was not a concession. Then, the Turkish Energy and Natural Resources Ministry underlined in a press release on September 14 that the ship would soon return to its activities and that other drilling ships were continuing their activities in the eastern Mediterranean.
Turkey did not expect to face European Union sanctions over a dispute with Greece in the eastern Mediterranean, Çavuşoğlu told Turkish broadcaster NTV, adding: “It could be against our ship, our company, individuals. They have made such decisions in the past. Have we abandoned our determination? No, our determination has only increased.” Speaking on the return of the drill ship on September 18, President Erdoğan stressed that Turkey had pulled the Oruç Reis back to allow for diplomacy with Greece but that this did not mean Turkish operations in the region had ended.
The Oruç Reis returned to waters near Turkey’s southern province of Antalya on September 13 for what Greece said it was a positive first step in easing tensions over offshore natural resources and maritime jurisdiction in the eastern Mediterranean. There is no agreement between Greece and Turkey delimiting their continental shelves. The seven EU members with Mediterranean coastlines gathered for a summit in France on September 15 and underlined that the EU would draw up a new list of sanctions unless Ankara comes to the negotiating table to resolve a territorial dispute with Greece and Cyprus.
The CHP has regularly supported the ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) to pass several motions in the Turkish Parliament allowing the government to launch and extend cross-border military operations in northern Iraq and Syria. A day after the parliament approval on October 8, 2019, the government launched its latest military offensive, Operation Peace Spring, which aims to establish a safe zone in northern Syria running parallel to Turkey’s border in order to settle millions of Syrian refugees.
In line with his party policies, Kılıçdaroğlu lent his support to the government, and tweeted “May Allah bless and bestow triumph on our children.”
Last week the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) urged Turkey to launch an immediate independent investigation into violations and abuses committed in parts of north, northwest and northeast Syria that are under the control of its forces and affiliated armed groups. According to the OHCHR, “… since January, at least 116 civilians were killed in these areas, and some 463 injured, by improvised explosive devices (IEDs) and explosive remnants of war (ERW). Those killed included 15 women, 20 boys and two girls.”
“People living in these areas whose rights have been violated are entitled to protection and a remedy. In this regard, I urge Turkey to immediately launch an impartial, transparent and independent investigation into the incidents we have verified, account for the fate of those detained and abducted by the affiliated armed groups, and hold accountable those responsible for what may, in some instances, amount to crimes under international law, including war crimes,” said UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Michelle Bachelet.
Kılıçdaroğlu has repeatedly stated that the Syrian refugees hosted by Turkey should be sent home. He claims the refugees are making it hard for Turkish citizens to find work because they undercut wages. “Are we running a soup kitchen here? Our own citizens, unemployed people and retirees can’t make ends meet,” he said according to a report by Daily Sabah, a mouthpiece of the Turkish government.
In recent years Syrian refugees have become the main target of nationalist politics in Turkey. In addition to AKP deputies, several MPs from parties represented in parliament such as President Erdoğan’s coalition partner the MHP, the CHP and the ultranationalist opposition IYI Party, have exposed their xenophobic sentiments toward Syrian refugees, who had to flee their country due to its nine-year civil war.
The Syrian refugees in the country has been the target of several violent attacks. On September 14, Eymenh Hammamı, a 16-year-old Syrian refugee, was killed in Turkey’s northern province of Samsun by a racist mob, the Duvar English-language news website reported. Similarly, Syrian refugee Abdulkadir Davud (21) was shot dead last month in what appears to be a hate crime in the Zeytinburnu district of İstanbul.
The Turkish president has repeatedly threatened the EU with an influx of refugees if no funds are given to his government for refugees. He reiterated the same threat to prevent European leaders’ criticism of Turkey’s incursion into northern Syria in October 2019. Erdoğan lashed out at the EU and warned he would “open the gates” if anyone called Operation Peace Spring an “invasion.”