Members of a Greek rescue team work on the site of a collapsed building, as the search for survivors continues, in the aftermath of a deadly earthquake, in Hatay, Türkiye, Feb. 11, 2023. (Reuters Photo)

Diplomacy at work: Türkiye’s post-earthquake foreign policy

As the recent natural disaster activates ties with Türkiye, it is necessary to use 'earthquake diplomacy' to reduce tensions and improve bilateral relations

The twin earthquakes in Türkiye have given momentum to diplomatic contacts, as 88 countries delivered aid and 11,302 foreign search and rescue workers participated in relief efforts.

The Turkish people are grateful to those countries and the international community for their assistance.

Moreover, U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken visited Türkiye earlier this week, following in the footsteps of NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg and the foreign ministers of Greece, Israel and Armenia. The German defense and foreign ministers are due to arrive at the quake zone shortly. As the Turkish people stood in nationwide solidarity, the arrival of notable international assistance and the positive atmosphere during the above-mentioned visits highlighted the importance of “earthquake diplomacy.”

Among other things, Greek Foreign Minister Nikos Dendias expressed support for Türkiye during his visit and subsequently in Brussels to remind many people of the de-escalation in the 1999 earthquake’s aftermath. Some argued that Türkiye needed to start a new chapter with the United States, the European Union and Greece with the help of earthquake diplomacy. Others even accused President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan of placing foreign policy “under the rubble,” recalling his earlier warning that Türkiye could “suddenly arrive one night” and the Western and Greek assistance.

COVID-19 days

Obviously, solidarity in the face of disasters is the common ground for all of humanity.

Let us recall that the world’s leading powers failed that test in the early days of the COVID-19 pandemic. It is true that the aid arriving in Türkiye helped heal the country’s wounds. It makes absolutely no sense, however, to criticize Turkish foreign policy by highlighting foreign aid and saying: “See, the Turks do have friends other than the Turks.”

The twin earthquakes caused horrible destruction in Türkiye. Yet that is not exclusively why foreign governments rushed to our country’s side.

Türkiye led the world in humanitarian assistance based on its gross national product (GDP). Erdoğan has talked about the international system’s unjust aspects everywhere – including in the United Nations. Our country played an active role in delivering medical supplies to people in need during the pandemic.

The Turkish government served as a mediator amid the Ukraine war, successfully negotiating the landmark grain deal and a prisoner exchange. In other words, Türkiye is among a handful of countries that helps people suffering from disasters all over the world. That is exactly why we received support from our Western allies, our neighbors, the Muslim and Turkic world, and African nations. We have offered them friendship and received their friendship in return.

Exploiting even international assistance to criticize Türkiye’s foreign policy – as if none of the above happened – must be a “skill” unique to those who cannot abandon partisanship in the wake of a major disaster.

Post-quake solidarity won’t last

It goes without saying that earthquake diplomacy should be used to de-escalate tensions and strengthen bilateral relations.

Türkiye should make an effort to translate the positive atmosphere in its relations with Armenia, Israel and Greece into concrete results. At the same time, there is a need for all sides to give momentum to diplomacy to address disputes. It is necessary to acknowledge that post-disaster solidarity will not last long. Nor will it suddenly eliminate structural conflicts of interest.

Quite the contrary, what is needed is a firm commitment to negotiations.

Normalization with all three countries involves certain factors. Türkiye will not just set aside the peace process between Azerbaijan and Armenia. Settlements and the question of Jerusalem are relevant to normalization with Israel. Greece’s militarization of the Aegean islands and claim to 12 miles of territorial waters are sources of tension.

It is certainly necessary to use earthquake diplomacy to manage and resolve those disagreements.

Stoltenberg did not neglect to bring up Sweden and Finland’s membership applications during his visit.

Blinken’s visit to Ankara went well. He announced a $185 million aid package to Türkiye and Syria, adding that the U.N. secretary-general had called for $1 billion of aid. He also talked a great deal about being allies, working together around the world and sharing the same values.

Yet, the F-16 issue remains unsolved. Washington continues to support the PKK terrorist group’s Syrian wing, the YPG, and talk about Daesh. Türkiye also faces incessant requests regarding Sweden and Finland.

Those are the cold realities of foreign policy.

[Daily Sabah, February 25 2023]

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