David C. Cuthell
How successful is so far Turkish “zero problems with neighbors” policy?
I would have to say that the answer is mixed. "Zero problems with neighbors" at first was quite successful as it opened up a new round of talks as well as trade with the countries in the region. It also made clear that the new AKP government was going to revisit its bilateral relations with countries in the neighborhood from the perspective of starting anew. Lastly, it worked because Ahmet Davutoglu made an effort to both visit countries in the neighborhood and make sure that the dialogue continued.
At the beginning, the policy seemed to bear a lot of fruit. However, a combination of changes in the neighborhood, for better or for worse, caused the enthusiasm to dwindle. Wars, coups and a changing landscape made it difficult to continue the dialogue and led to greater disenchantment on the part of Ankara. Syria was a good example of this. Beyond that, the optimism and expectations of the neighbors dwindled as the Turks sometimes came across as arrogant. Lastly, in my opinion, the policy has suffered from too fast and too shallow a series of initiative and overstretched its ability to handle all of the initiatives as well.
There is an opinion that Islamic nature of the Turkish regime cause many problems with some of Turkish neighbors and present or already former allies. Is it really so?
The short answer is no. Turkey is largely Muslim but they don't bring their religion to policy other than as it reinforces an ethical approach. What the AKP has brought is really just a more conservative group to power. To be sure, many of their world views are informed by Islam but that does not mean that their policies are Islamic.
How would you comment on Turkish approach to the Syrian crisis?
The Turks have, in my mind, played this as well as might be done. The Assad regime has a terrible record and clearly realizes that they have no where to go. As their backs are to the wall, they have been horrible to their own people and this will result in a payback of revenge. Opening the camps for the refugees is a humanitarian move but has also served to begin to stabilize the region. At the same time Assad regime, in the minds of most Turks as well as the rest of the world, has to go. My sense is that the government has one of two options: a) hope that Assad is toppled and that the Syrians can find a solution and b) the UN or some multilateral group takes the moves needed to neutralize the military and to remove Assad by force.
What do you think about relations between Turkey and Iran, to rivals for a leadership in Islamic world, as many experts assume?
This is, to my mind, the most interesting question today. Turkey and Iran are rivals and have been for 700 years. They do understand that open warfare is not an option so most of the competition is behind the scenes. On the surface, things are cordial and correct. Underneath, there is real competition and will be for some time. Clearly at present, Turkey holds most of the cards. Its economy and political order are far ahead of Iran's and the nature of the Iranian regime makes it difficult to see how any country would prefer to dealings with them over dealing with Turkey.
How successful may the Turkish policy in the South Caucasus be while Armenia rejects any mediatory of Turkey and has its own known problems with Ankara?
It is hard to say but my feeling is that this is really a case of cutting the Gordian knot. I have felt for years that if PM Erdogan wanted to one day announce that the Turkish side of the border was open, without preconditions, that the Armenians would fall flat on their faces. They have been so stubborn for so long that it would be a good shock to the system.
The reality is that Armenians are working in Turkey illegally, possibly as many as a hundred thousand. Opening the border would show, once and for all, who is holding back any improvement in the neighborhood. At some point the Armenians, one of the most talented peoples and historic cultures in the world, are going to have to face the fact that their hardline politics only serve to hurt themselves. At that point we could all enjoy a good cup of Turkish/Armenian/Azeri coffee!