Turkey has always been influential in matters concerning its neighbouring geography including the Black Sea, Caucasus, Middle East, North Africa, Eastern Mediterranean and the Balkans, generated constructive foreign policy ideas through initiatives and proposals, and played an active role in the realization of most of those ideas to produce fruitful results for stability in the region. The idea for the Middle East Peace and Cooperation Organization (MEPCO), put forth in the 13th Article of the manifesto for the “Call to the Second Century” of the Republican People’s Party, is a concrete example of that visionary foreign policy. This initiative needs to be well understood.

Time has come to establish peace and stability in the tumultuous Middle Eastern region that has suffered from hot conflicts and wars all along the history and, for the peoples of the region, to build a peaceful future together. Many initiatives and ideas were previously put forth in this region for this purpose. None of them, however, has been successful so far. The main reason why they remained inconclusive was because certain models that emerged in other regions which functioned well under their own circumstances were taken as examples and were tried to be applied in the Middle Eastern region. Such approach was mainly due to lack of acknowledgement and comprehension about  the Middle East. The countries in the region were forced to fit into alien and imported models from abroad. No wonder this did not work.

Why the Middle East, why now?

Today’s conditions require the countries in the region to get together on their own initiative to establish an environment of peace, stability, cooperation, solidarity and serenity for the future. We are about to finish the first quarter of the 21st century. This current period of history shows us that the region is faced with three important changes.

The first change is international terrorism that emerged in the aftermath of the attack on the twin towers in USA in 2001 and haunted the entire world since. Terrorism is not a new phenomenon in the world. However, with the emergence of various organizations, it began to institutionalize after the attacks in 2001 and caused international relations to evolve from an arena for nation-state actors and international organizations into a different environment. These new actors, most of whom defend a certain view or conviction with terrorism or armed struggle, transform international relations into a new process of interaction. Some of them recline upon a nation-state or a nation-state uses these actors as proxy warriors. Having a much wider impact area in the Middle East, organizations like Al Qaeda and ISIS harm mostly the region’s own stability, peace and security. Turkey, in addition to those organizations, has been fighting against the PKK for years, too.

The second phenomenon is mass migration. Developments that started in 2011 in the Middle East and North Africa (MENA) which caused the aforementioned organizations to find a convenient environment over time led to an increase and propagation of mass migration. According to the “2020 Global Trends Report” published by the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), the number of people that fled wars, oppression, violence, terrorism and violation of human rights is 82.4 million. That is, those who, in one way or another, run away from their homeland in the world are as many as the population of Turkey. This means more than 1% of the world’s population. The region that is the most affected from these population displacements is once again the Middle East! The number of only those that have fled Syria and Afghanistan is 9.3 million. This is more than 10% of the number of runaways in the entire world.  Turkey is the leading country that hosts irregular migrants, not only in the region but also in the world. The countries of origin for this problem in our region are Syria and Afghanistan while Iran and Iraq are the countries of transit. Therefore, Turkey, Syria, Iraq and Iran need to be the main actors of the MEPCO idea.

Can comprehensive peace be achieved in the region?

We cannot ignore the fact that the Arab-Israeli disaccord constitutes one of the main dynamics of conflict in the region. Nonetheless, a recent phenomenon that can be considered the third important change in the region is the advancement of diplomatic relations between Israel and Arab countries, namely the Abraham Accords. Even though Israel and Turkey are unable to maintain the level of diplomatic relations on the level of Ambassadors, Israel managed to establish and improve diplomatic relations with the United Arab Emirates (UAE), Bahrain, Sudan and Morocco when it previously had no diplomatic relations with the Arab world except for Egypt and Jordan. The country continues to test the waters for a similar initiative with Saudi Arabia. This change is important as Israel is now talking to more Arab countries. Israel and the Arab world might consider this an achievement and progress. From Turkey’s perspective, this is regression. The wrongful foreign policy followed by the AKP (Justice and Development Party) government in the region has stripped Turkey of its chance of acting as the perfect facilitator and mediator for regional peace and caused Israel to fill the gap left by Turkey through development of new diplomatic relations with the Arab world.

Despite this, it is too soon to predict that the region is approaching an environment of full-blown, comprehensive peace and that the Arab-Israeli disaccord can be resolved with a peace agreement. Then, where and how can MEPCO play a role in the Middle East in the matter? First of all, it would be misleading to expect this initiative to come into force as an “Organization” from day one. This initiative cannot be extended or expanded unless lasting peace is established in the region. However, Turkey, Syria, Iraq and Iran’s ability to talk to each other and work on the region’s aforementioned basic problems on a platform of confidence building will be the guarantor of permanent peace in the future.

MEPCO is not a defense or security organization 

MEPCO should not be considered as a defense or security organization. This initiative aims at procuring a conducive platform so that the four countries that are directly affected from the region’s basic problems can initiate a process of dialogue and cooperation to solve those problems. It is natural to expect the other countries in the region to participate in this platform over time and become a party to the talks related to their regional problems. Therefore, perceiving MEPCO as an initiative for divergence, division, building new walls or alienation means failing to grasp the main philosophy of this idea. 

On the other hand, MEPCO should not be considered closed to non-regional actors. It is impossible to say that the problems of the Middle East do not have an impact on Europe’s security. The issue of migration has recently become the number one priority in the European Union’s (EU) agenda related to the Middle East. Hence, it is unimaginable that the EU will not want to contribute to MEPCO in the future. Similarly, there are fields where global actors such as USA, Russia and China can benefit from a stable environment in the Middle East. Eradicating terrorism is in the interest of all of these actors. So, it is worthy to foresee that MEPCO will go beyond a regional platform of stability and make important contributions to global stability and development in the future. What is important is, all of those non-regional actors should intend to make encouraging-rather than oppressive-contributions to that initiative of the countries of the region itself.

MEPCO, an important instrument and objective of CHP’s (Republican People’s Party) foreign policy vision, is an idea that can contribute, not only on the scale of the Middle East, but also to the consolidation of global stability and development through the stability of the region. Turkey has a strong position in all of the regions mentioned in the beginning of this article, which makes it a regional power. However, the period we are going through necessitates a vision based on peace, dialogue and diplomacy rather than a foreign policy understanding that takes advantage of conflicts and tensions. Such a vision can be achieved not through regional powers but through a powerful region. Those days when Turkey and its neighbors will make important contributions to peace in the region and in the world starting with MEPCO, are not far away. 

Ünal Çeviköz

Ambassador (R)

MP from Istanbul