When Turkish officials land in bitterly divided countries like Lebanon or Afghanistan or Pakistan, every faction is eager to talk to them. No country’s diplomats are as welcome in both Tehran and Jerusalem, Moscow and Tblisi, Damascus and Cairo. As a Muslim country intimately familiar with the region around it, Turkey can go places, engage partners, and make deals that the United States cannot.
This new Turkish role holds tantalizing potential. Before Turkey can play it fully, though, it must put its own house in order. That is one reason its leaders were so eager to resolve their country’s dispute with Armenia.
Turkey has one remaining international problem to resolve: Cyprus. Then it must solidify its democracy at home. That means lifting restrictions on free speech and fully respecting minority rights not just those of Kurds, whose culture has been brutalized by decades of repression, but also those of Christians, non-mainstream Muslims, and unbelievers.
Under other circumstances, Egypt, Pakistan, or Iran might have emerged to lead the Islamic world. Their societies, however, are weak, fragmented, and decomposing. Indonesia is a more promising candidate, but it has no historic tradition of leadership and is far from the center of Muslim crises. That leaves Turkey. It is trying to seize this role. Making peace with Armenia was an important step. More are likely to come soon. [continued…]