Viewed as a snapshot, the situation in Syria and Iraq may lead one to hopelessness and despair. But as a professor of history, diplomat and politician, I know that history flows in consequential frames that make sense only once they can be seen as a whole.
In trying to address the many seemingly insurmountable challenges to Turkey’s south, we must bear this truth in mind.
To the south of its borders, Turkey is faced with multiple grave threats to its national security. In Syria, hundreds of thousands are dead and many millions displaced — including almost 2 million in Turkey — while the illegitimate regime in Damascus and the terrorist organization Daesh (also known as ISIL, among other names) compete as to who can display more outright barbarism. While one indiscriminately bombs its own civilian population, employing chemical weapons in blatant disregard for international law, the other pillages, rapes and subjugates an innocent people with nowhere left to turn. Taking advantage of the fog of war, other terrorist organizations, such as the PKK, see terror as a potential means to achieve its ends.
In sum, it appears as if an era of chaos and anarchy is being born to our south. But as we know from history, it is always darkest before dawn. We are not without options in tackling the breakdown of order that we are witnessing.
Building on centuries of statecraft, Turkey has always put diplomacy squarely at the center of the conduct of its international relations. It was this experience that allowed the young Turkish republic to turn old enmities into new friendships and alliances.
But living in this volatile region, we are also well aware that not all problems can be solved through diplomacy. Just as there is good, there is evil. And when necessary, it must be confronted.
We in Turkey are all too familiar with terrorism. We have suffered immensely and paid a heavy price. Our resolve has not waned; we are determined to meet the terrorist threat when and where it presents itself.
Turkey has been fully committed to the fight against Daesh since this monstrous organization first reared its ugly head. No other NATO country has had to share a border with Daesh. As a member of the international coalition formed to counter the threat, Turkey had already been deploying its national assets and capabilities to degrade this terrorist organization. Now, as the threat from Daesh becomes more acute, we are — in full accordance with international law — taking a fundamental step forward.
The understanding that we have reached with the United States at the highest level will allow us, together with our other allies, to take the fight more effectively to the terrorists. By clearing our borders of Daesh, we will not only degrade and eventually destroy a heinous terrorist entity, but also provide a lifeline to the moderate Syrian opposition who are the only actors on the ground fighting both the Assad regime and Daesh.
We have come to this agreement with the United States because we firmly believe that if, as we have done many times in the past, we can act in concert, we will reverse the tide of extremism in the region and pave the way toward stability.
But we should not lose sight of who created the circumstances that led to the rise of Daesh, and who colludes with it when it suits their purpose. Syria cannot be salvaged until the regime in Damascus abdicates power. It is the Assad regime that is responsible for the carnage and chaos that led to the emergence of Daesh, and this fertile ground for radicalization cannot be eradicated until Bashar al-Assad and his circle of cronies leave. A political change based on the principles of the 2012 Geneva Communique can and must be reached. This is the only way more large-scale bloodshed can be prevented, and the international community, including the permanent members of the U.N. Security Council, must shoulder their responsibilities fully to bring this about.
With regard to Iraq, which itself is suffering immensely because of Daesh terrorism, inclusive policies supported by the legal frameworks necessary to win over the disenfranchised segments of the population, coupled with meaningful steps to bolster a functioning federalism based on power- and revenue-sharing, are the only way forward.
While not similar in origin or ideology, the PKK — a U.S.-designated terrorist organization — is also resorting to terrorism once again with the hope that the situation in Syria can be exploited to strengthen its standing in the eyes of the West. We have embarked on a historic process to end decades of violence through further democratization, but this process cannot reach its culmination until the PKK lays down its arms, ends its violent attacks and removes its armed elements from Turkey. All terrorist organizations that target Turkey must know that their acts will not go unpunished and that we will respond to their acts with full resolve, as we have every right to under international law. This is not to say that the process of seeking a solution is over; on the contrary, I am determined to take it forward, as rapidly as I am able, to its logical conclusion once a new government is in place in Turkey. But in the meantime, PKK terrorism must stop and it should take its armed elements out of Turkey.
Over the past 13 years, Turkey has changed in many ways, all for the better. With a thriving young population, a robust economy and a full-fledged democracy underpinned by all the necessary checks and balances, including a feisty press and civil society, Turkey is a success story. Geography is indeed destiny, and we will remain, with our allies and partners, steadfast against the threats that emanate from our region. As our history teaches, we will always look for ways to peacefully resolve potential conflicts. But when we are threatened, we will act unreservedly, with every means at our disposal, until the enemy is defeated.
Ahmet Davutoğlu is prime minister of Turkey.