Quake Diplomacy: Catastrophic disasters make one realize their vulnerability and teach humility. They make one aware of the transience of life and the significance of accepting accountability for our deeds and making wise decisions. Has this lesson been learnt by Turkey though?
Southeast Turkey and northwest Syria were devastated by a strong 7.8 magnitude earthquake on February 6, 2023, and a series of powerful aftershocks then followed causing tremendous losses to life and property. In a region already rocked by unrest brought on by the ongoing refugee crisis and a nearly 12-year old conflict in Syria, tens of thousands have been injured and hundreds of thousands have been displaced.
Talking specifically of Turkey, it is estimated that more than 50,000 people have died and more than a 100,000 people have succumbed to serious injuries. Families are shattered and homes are broken today. A tragedy never seen in centuries had struck Turkey.
Perhaps now everyone who reside in Turkey have come to their senses that Erdogan and his government have somehow failed to adequately aid and assist Turkish nationals. The anger against Erdogan is so intense that the aspiring Khalifa had to apologize to people. Resultantly, he has realized that staying animus to the world will not work out, especially at a time when elections are round the corner. So, he has a damage control plan, known as ‘Quake Diplomacy’
Turkey-Greece and Armenia comes together
In what is slated to be termed as a historic shift, Turkey appears to be resetting its foreign policy post the earthquake. Yes, Ankara and Athens are now coming on the same page after decades of animosity. Prior to the disaster, tensions between the two nations were escalating, with fears of a military confrontation looming at large.
However, in the wake of this natural disaster, Greece took the first steps to offer aid and support to their neighbors, sending tents, beds, and blankets, and deploying fully equipped teams of rescue professionals, doctors, and paramedics to the region. This act of solidarity and compassion from Greece did not go unnoticed in Ankara. Turkey responded with genuine gratitude. The Greek Foreign Minister’s visit to the earthquake-stricken Hatay province was seen as a positive shift in relations between the two nations. Citizens in Greece have also shown their support by donating to charities and sharing messages of solidarity on social media.
Even Armenia came to Turkey’s rescue in its the harshest of times. the Armenian government delivered food, medicine, drinking water and other emergency supplies to devastated cities and towns soon after the quakes. The Armenian research and rescue crews were also on the ground to hasten the rescue operation.
More importantly, the aid from Armenia crossed into Turkey through the land border which has been sealed since the early 1990s. On the back of these goodwill gestures, Armenian Foreign Minister Ararat Mirzoyan also visited Ankara on February 15 to discuss the ongoing efforts to normalize ties between Armenia and Turkey.
Folks, this is the same Armenia that was pounded by Turkish Bayraktar drones during the Armenia-Azerbaijan war. This serves as a reminder that even in times of conflict and tension, disasters can bring people together and highlight the importance of compassion and empathy towards one another.
Quake Diplomacy: Resetting its foreign policy
In recent years, Turkey has concentrated on resetting its foreign policy and mending ties with nations with which it has long-standing disagreements, including the UAE, Egypt, and Israel. In an effort to foster regional stability, President Erdogan has even stated that he would be open to meet the Syrian government.
This is truly a big change of heart on Turkey’s part. The brewing tensions among countries in this region has always kept the area burning to the detriment of common people. Turkey personally, didn’t appreciate Greece’s move to beef up its military presence on the Aegean Islands and Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis’s promises to strengthen the fence along the Greek-Turkish border to prevent asylum seekers from pouring in. Infact, Erdogan has often lambasted Greek PM over the security buildup in the Aegean sea.
Division of Cyprus has also been another bone of contention, where Greece and Turkey have been at loggerheads for decades. Sharing the same sentiment as Turkey, Armenia too has a sense of realization that normalizing relations with Turkey are necessary if it intends to solve the Nagorno-Karabakh crisis.
Stakes for Erdogan too high
But why this sudden change of heart? Is it genuine or has a longer ploy in place?
Evidently, more than Greece and Armenia, Turkey is eyeing for normalization of relations as Erdogan seeks to win the upcoming elections at any cost. Even after a massive disaster, Turkish President Tayyip Recep Erdogan has stressed that whatever happens, elections will be held on May 14 2023. Recep Tayyip Erdogan, the president of Turkey, frequently uses nationalistic rhetoric to sway voters during elections. Ever since he assumed office in 2002, his political party, the AKP, has been known for its conservative, often extremist, and nationalist policies.
Turkish voters have responded favorably to his nationalist messaging because they view him as a strong leader who prioritizes Turkey. But, in recent times, Erdogan has come under fire for his attempts to consolidate power and showing authoritarian tendencies. Even before the earthquake, his popularity had tanked to sorry levels.
Nationalism has failed to fill the bellies of Turkish nationals. In midst of a political, economical, and now, natural crisis, it is unclear how Erdogan’s nationalist rhetoric will continue to influence Turkey’s political landscape as the country faces numerous difficulties, including geopolitical tensions.
Erdogan has therefore adopted “quake diplomacy” as a strategy to heal old wounds and create long-lasting relationships with neighbors after coming to terms with the fact that the nationalism card cannot be encashed upon anymore to sway the elections in his favour. And so, Greece-Armenia and Turkey are back together. Demonstrating a willingness to put aside long-running disagreements and work towards a common objective by accepting assistance and support from nations who were earlier not friendly. Erdogan appears to be playing a smart game today and it needs to be seen how successful he is in his endeavours on the foes to friend strategy.
It’s unclear whether Erdogan’s new strategy will be effective in terms of electoral politics or not. Seeing such a 180 degree turn in geo politics has indeed made Turkey and Erdogan to watch out for.