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After 'Apology' Back-And-Forth, Turkey Moves On

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan (left) and Russian President Vladimir Putin
Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan (left) and Russian President Vladimir Putin

Everybody was saying that it wouldn’t happen.

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan would never apologize -- and he is really not the type to do so. Reconciling with Israel and Russia? Never! Erdogan is an Islamist (is he?) facing Israel -- no way. And Russia, well, Turkey and Russia are too deeply involved on opposite sides in Syria. So, no!

But on June 27 we were surprised by two bits of news: first Israel and then Russia – yes -- on exactly the same day and one after another. Turkey will normalize its relations seven years after the Israeli attack on the Turkish aid vessel Mavi Marmara heading to Gaza and seven months after Turks downed a Russian Su-24 fighter on the Syrian-Turkish border.

Turkey wanted an apology from Israel and Russia wanted an apology from Turkey in the two incidents.

Everybody was predicting that no apologies would come. But both came, in one or another way, and it worked.

In Turkey, the opposition and critical media cried foul after the apologies with good questions that nobody can answer with certainty.

So, what was all that bragging and slogans about “brotherhood with the Palestinians” seven years ago? Why then did you shoot down the Russian fighter jet and proudly announce how tough you are with the Russians? To apologize after just seven months? Pros and cons started to argue: did Erdogan say “I am sorry” or “apologize”?

Turkish media report two versions, of him expressing “apology” or “regret,” depending on the outlet’s political standing. Apparently, Erdogan's letter included both words.

Did he apologize to the killed Russian pilot’s family or to Russian President Vladimir Putin? One Tweet by Erdogan’s office, dated two or so years ago, went viral. There, typical for Erdogan, he was saying how strong now Turkey has become compared to the past: “Gone is now the old Turkey, a Turkey with a fallen head, a Turkey that others dictated its agenda, a Turkey that apologized.”

I have to admit I thought Erdogan is very traditional-Turkish and believed he would stick to the Turkish saying that “a real man does not change his word.” Sharper critics reminded us of the Turkish saying that a man would “not lick his own spit.”

But he apparently had no problem changing his mind. Reason prevailed. Emotion had to step aside.

Now let the analysts analyze and journalists write and the man on the street guess. Maybe there is some truth in everybody’s word and maybe none at all. In my discussions on either side, the pros and cons, I asked them to calm down and reminded them of another Turkish saying: “Alan memnun, veren memnun,” which translates something like: "Why are you upset? You have nothing to say."

Both sides are happy with what they have done. And both sides hope it is better for their countries, for peace and well-being of the region to make a deal rather than to argue and fight.

The fact is Erdogan, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, and Putin proved to be much more flexible than anybody was expecting. And that is most probably good for all three of their countries and good for the region -- inshallah.

About This Blog

Turkey Notebook is a blog written by Abbas Djavadi, regional director of programming at RFE/RL and a longtime Turkey specialist. The blog presents Djavadi’s personal take on events and is designed for Turkey-watchers and all who want to get the most relevant news, views, issues, and insights on the country that you might not find in the daily news stream. Also check out Turkey Notebook on Facebook or Twitter.