It’s been over three months that we have been holding our breath, with many in Turkey keeping their frustration with the Justice and Development Party (AKP) government on a leash, and the media had to act with complete restraint in order not to cause any harm to the 49 hostages.
Now that they are free, it only remains to share the joy of the families whose relatives were held so long without freedom and sigh in relief.
The release will inevitably have some consequences.
First of all, Turkey’s new Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoğlu will do his best to politically depict the happy ending as a grand victory for his government.
He could instead relax and use this momentum to start repairing the social polarity and mistrust in the government. He must also rest assured that no matter who speculates what, it’s the human lives saved that matters more than anything else. It is a golden opportunity to redefine who is the enemy of Turkey and humanity and build a broad domestic front to return to democratic objectives.
Second, when the euphoria starts settling down, the independent part of the media will ask all the relevant questions and seek answers.
Was it a “rescue operation” as President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan claims, or was it an agreement after lengthy “negotiations,” thanks to the National Intelligence Organization (MİT), as Davutoğlu and another prominent figure of the government, Deputy Prime Minister Bülent Arınç, say. If the case was about negotiations, what helped the release? Was any ransom paid? If so, how much? If no money was involved, did the AKP government promise anything politically or militarily in favor of the Islamic State (IS), as the self-declared “caliph” of the self-proclaimed Islamic State, Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, implies?
No matter what, Erdoğan and Davutoğlu will not be able to shake off these questions.
The third point, and the most important, is about the immediate future. Now that the hostage crisis is over, what will Turkey’s roadmap as a crucial NATO partner look like? So far, the 49 hostages have been asserted as a reason — which some skeptics saw as “pretext” — to shy away from active participation in fighting the IS.
But the reality on the ground demands an urgent, critical choice. Turkey long ago lost control over the situation in Syria: Its roughly 500-kilometer border means a tremendous set of threats from IS units and “suicide-happy” sympathizers.
The intensified warfare between the Kurdish Democratic Union Party (PYD)/People’s Protection Units (YPG) and IS forces, now focusing on Kobane, raises the alarm of losing more control along the border, leaving only Rojava in the northeastern corner of Syria as a pocket of resistance.
Furthermore, Turkey has now over 1,200,000 refugees from Syria, which is raising tensions in border provinces to the boiling point. In the past 48 hours, some 70,000 Kurdish villagers fled into Turkish territory, settling in the town of Suruç. They are harbingers of a possible mass exodus, and this demands resolute decisions.
In Iraq, if Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG) President Massoud Barzani and Turkmens feel let down by Ankara, since both claim that Turkey was unresponsive to calls for help, it will add to dangers that even the most “Turkey-friendly” part of the region may also be slipping away. If this is not dealt with a clear-sighted policy, Turkey will have been left with no leverage and no sense of trust.
What will Turkey — depicted as the “weakest link” in the core coalition — do now? The idea of setting up a buffer zone and an additional no-fly zone has already been aired by Erdoğan, who seems keen on enforcing the need for a UN Security Council decision for this. Given Russia, China and Iran and the general reluctance to send ground troops for protecting such a humanitarian zone, this is not a very realistic idea.
This also risks being seen as a new attempt to hamper cooperation.
The best Davutoğlu can do after “the moment of relief” is multi-fold: Turkey should prevent all logistic and financial support for the IS. It should give the highest priority to opening refugee camps for international aid.
And it is now time for Turkey’s heavily financed Directorate of Religious Affairs to stop mumbling and make it loud and clear for all the Muslims in the country that the IS represents nothing but evil and must be fought.