Mevlut Cavusoglu

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You are Mevlut Cavusoglu (pronounced Myoo-lute Shava-shoge-loo), the Foreign Minister of Turkey.

You were born in the southern city of Alanya in 1968, but after you finished your undergraduate degree you left Turkey to study economics abroad, ultimately obtaining a doctorate from the London School of Economics. You career in public service began in 2002 with your election to the Turkish parliament, and you soon joined the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe (PACE), an inter-European advisory council that discusses European and international events related to topics like human rights and the protection of ethnic and religious minorities. You soon became the head of Turkey’s PACE delegation, and from 2010 until 2012 you served as the President of PACE itself. Your experience working on political and legal matters with delegates from European nations prepared you well for your nomination as Minister of European Affairs in 2013. This new position brought you to the center of Turkey’s relationship with the European Union (EU), and your rise through the ranks of Turkish foreign policy circles was culminated by your selection as Foreign Minister in August 2014. After the August 2015 elections resulted in no government being formed, new elections were called and you were temporarily replaced by independent politician Feridun Siniroglu as part of an interim government. However, you resumed your tenure as Foreign Minister after President Erdogan and your Justice and Development Party won a decisive victory in the November 2015 elections.

Turkey and the European Union

Turkey’s relationship with the European Union has been, well, complicated. As you know, the European Union is a political and economic union made up of twenty-eight European nations. The EU has its own foreign policy, and the member nations operate under a shared currency. The European Union was formed in 1993, but it has its roots in the EEC, the European Economic Community, which dates back to the 1950’s. Turkey sees itself as being the gateway between Asia and Europe, and as being a key part of the political and economic life of both continents. Turkey’s application to join the European Union has been on the table, effectively, all the way back to the beginnings of the EEC, and Turkey has been an associate member of the EEC, and then the EU, since 1963. Turkey’s application for full EU membership has been a major source of controversy, though, with Turkey seeing itself as an economic power that deserves a seat at the table, having earned this status by virtue of its membership in NATO. The EU has resisted Turkey’s application, however, citing economic concerns (many EU nations regard Turkey as a developing economy, not a developed one, like the current EU members) and political ones. These political concerns include Turkey’s limits on free speech, the lack of a formal settlement and cessation of grievances with the government of Cyprus (a nation Turkey invaded in the 1970’s), Turkey’s failure to acknowledgement its carrying out of the Armenian genocide in the 1920’s, and its repression of Turkey’s Kurdish minority. Inside Turkey, and elsewhere, many contend that the negative response by many key nations to Turkey’s application for UN membership mostly reflects a reticence to bring large numbers of Muslims into the EU, and is based in religious and ethnic prejudice.

The intensity with which Turkey has pushed for EU membership, or publicly advocated for it, has ebbed and flowed over recent years. Turkey wants to maintain the political and economic relations it has with many European nations, but it does not want to be seen as a beggar forced to humiliate itself to win the favor of Europe. Turkey also seeks to be more influential in the Middle East, and it cannot afford to be seen as dancing to Europe’s tune. Indeed, Turkey not only feels that its economy has grown to the point where it clearly merits a spot in the EU, but it believes that many European nations fear the competition that will come with a Turkish EU membership, thus their resistance to Turkey’s application for membership. There is still a plan in place through which Turkey is supposedly making the changes it was asked to make in order to win admission, but the matter seemed to be somewhat on the back burner until Mr. Erdogan’s election as president in 2014. Given the work that you’ve been doing, your ascendance to the post of Foreign Minister is taken by many to be as evidence that a renewed Turkish push for EU membership is coming, though Mr. Erdogan is never predictable, and your appointment may have other strategic purposes attached to it.

Turkey and the Middle East

Turkey’s foreign policy was in something of a mess when you took your new position in 2015. With the downward spiral of key regional relations, such as those with Syria and Egypt, Turkey’s foreign policies have looked a bit confused, and your ambition to be a regional power-broker no longer look likely to be realized. For example, Turkey was a strong and visible supporter of the government, headed by Muslim Brotherhood leader Mohammad Morsi, that was elected in Egypt in 2012 after the overthrow of Hosni Mubarak. Morsi’s government did not survive its first year, being overthrown by what many regard as a military coup. The military chief who facilitated the removal of President Morsi, Abdel Fattah el-Sisi, was himself elected President of Egypt in the wake of Morsi’s ouster, and Turkey’s bold stand supporting the popular movement in Egypt and the Morsi Government has badly strained relations not only with Egypt, but with nations like Saudi Arabia and Jordan who were only too happy to see the end of what they regarded as a growing Islamist threat.

Turkey also took a strong stand against its former political and economic ally, President Assad of Syria, in the wake of the brutal response by the Assad government to the political protests that started in 2011, which many (including your President, Tayyip Erdogan) feel led to a full-fledged uprising with the savage intensity of Assad’s military response to protests by Syrians. It was hard to fault the then Prime Minister Erdogan for responding so negatively to Assad’s actions, but though for a time it looked like Assad’s days were numbered, he and his government have survived. Not only that, but key opposition forces in Syria, like ISIS, look to many to be even worse than Assad…as the saying goes, many people in the region and beyond are starting to wonder if things wouldn’t be better with “the devil they know, as opposed the one they don’t.” You are facing an immediate foreign policy decision in this connection, as you must decide what kind of role Turkey will play, if any, in support of the American incursion against ISIS forces in Iraq and Syria. It appears that your government's hardline against Assad (and, by extension, towards the Russians and Iranians) is softening a bit, with Turkey showing greater willingness to fight ISIS and potentially to tolerate a role for Assad in a post-war Syria.

As of 2016, relations between Turkey and Israel had taken a dramatic turn for the better. Israel sees Iran as THE geopolitical threat in the region, while Turkey sees Iran as a strategic rival...this is one key basis for a bond between your two nations. In the weeks after your ascension to the Prime Minister's position, you signed an agreement with Israel re-establishing full diplomatic relations, relations which had been downgraded for five years. As a part of this deal, Israel agreed to set up a $20 million compensation fund for families who lost loved ones in the 2010 ship incident, and Turkey will end all claims against the Israeli government as the two nations begin talks on jointly building a natural gas pipeline. You and President Erdogan have been at pains to make it clear that Turkey continues to support the Palestinians in their fight for an independent homeland, though. You also stand in favor of reconciliation between the two major political forces in Palestine, the Gaza-based Hamas and Fatah, which controls the West Bank and leads the quasi-governmental Palestinian Authority. Israel and the West want only to deal with Fatah, seeing Hamas as a terrorist entity, so your push for Palestinian reconciliation threatens to create tensions with Israel. In sum, Turkey, which had been diplomatically isolated in the region, is now seeing brighter prospects in the offing, and you appear to have taken office at an auspicious time.

Your Role as Foreign Minister

President Erdogan spoke of a “New Turkey” upon his election in 2014, and as mentioned before, your selection as Foreign Minister seems to augur new overtures to Europe. Along with navigating your way through the many regional tensions described above, you took office having to deal with the kidnapping by ISIS forces of some 50 Turks who had been working at Turkey’s consulate in Mosul. Turkey’s relations with the Shi’a led government in Iraq have not been great in recent years, and observers will be keenly watching how you approach Iraq’s new Prime Minister, Mr. Abadi, and his government that, though also Shi’a led, has come into office promising to be more inclusive. In the bigger picture, the extent to which Turkey supports the American actions against ISIS will say a lot about how your nation is positioning itself regionally.

In truth, however, your potential for success as Foreign Minister is wholly, and very personally linked to Tayyip Erdogan, a man who looks to many observers as not only mercurial, but hungry for absolute power. President Erdogan describes his decision in July 2016, in the wake of an attempted military coup that your government put down, to suspend tens of thousands of civil servants and impose a three-month state of emergency in Turkey as a strong statement on behalf of Turkish democracy. Depending on what happens as a consequence, and on how Erdogan's actions are perceived, your tenure could be rich with possibility, as already indicated by the calming of tensions with Israel, Russia, and Iran. You could also become the Foreign Minister for an effective dictator. Proceed carefully, sir...

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