Where Is Turkey Going?

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Prime Minister of Turkey Erdogan, courtesy of the United Nations/flickr
Prime Minister of Turkey Erdogan, courtesy of the United Nations/flickr

Political relations between Turkey and its neighbors have significantly changed. We can distinguish six major shifts in Turkish foreign policy within the last three months that could be considered historic:

  • Turkey prohibits Israel from participating in a NATO exercise on Turkish soil and starts to distance itself from Tel-Aviv.

  • Turkey and Armenia sign an historic accord, agreeing to resume diplomatic ties and re-open borders.

  • Turkey and Syria start to strengthen their ties by participating in a common military exercise and allowing Syrians and Turks to travel freely between the two countries.

  • Turkey releases PKK fighters and authorizes the use of the Kurdish language on national TV and during national political campaign.

  • Turkey backs the northern Cyprus government in its attempt to unify the island.

  • Turkey accuses western nations of hypocrisy in criticizing Iran’s uranium enrichment program while remaining silent on Israel.

  • What are the motivations behind those moves? What is Turkey trying to achieve? Like everything in world politics, we can distinguish between different theories about its recent behavior.

    Theory one: Turkey’s new attitude aims at reviving its relations with the Middle East. This could be seen as a plan to act as the leader and guardian of the Muslim world.

    According to this theory, Turkey would then be at the center of the Middle East geopolitics. This new policy could be called “neo-Ottoman” as it was named by the Turkish Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu. This theory is backed by the lack of progress in the procedure for accession to the EU and Turkish determination to play a role in the world stage.

    Theory two: Turkey is not distancing itself from the EU but aims to play the role of a natural bridge between the western and the Muslim worlds. This multi-directional policy targets resolving historical conflict and acting as a mediator between countries of the region (like Turkey is doing with Israel and Syria).

    This theory, supported by most Turkish officials, is backed by the structure and the geographic position of Turkey. Having one foot in Europe and one in Asia and having a Muslim population living in a secular country, Turkey is ‘genetically’ predisposed to act as a bridge between different cultures and positions.

    Theory three: Turkey is solving its neighboring problems in order to push the negotiation process with the EU. Four out of the six episodes named above are part of the ‘litigious’ points that restrain the Turkish accession to the EU.

    By solving those contentious points, Turkey aims at forcing the EU to take its responsibilities by a) going on with the accession process as if Turkey was just another Balkan country and thus recognizing that the political preference of Turkey is in Europe; b) showing the true reason behind the slow admission process of Turkey in the EU and thus recognizing that the political place of Turkey is at the door of Europe.

    Whatever path Turkey decides to take Ankara will continue to redefine its relations with the western and Muslim worlds for years to come. And among the next contentious points on the Turkish agenda, we can be sure that Turkey will need to take care of its relationship with Azerbaijan vis-à-vis of the Nagorno-Karabakh region, its relationship with Russia vis-à-vis of the Black Sea region and its role on the world energy stage.

5 replies on “Where Is Turkey Going?”

Another issue which has been mentioned in recent articles about Turkish accession to the EU is the fact that Turkey would be the most populous state in the EU (based on what I assume to be future estimates since Germany is still bigger at the moment) and would also, due to its sheer size, have significant influence in core EU institutions, including the Parliament, Commission and the Council. Surely there would also be pressure (and opposition) for Turkey to take on one of the new posts in the future. It would be extremely interesting if the EU had a Muslim foreign policy chief from a country that identity-wise and geographically does bridge the East and the West. This could give the EU previously (and currently) unimagined influence in the Muslim world.

Turkish accession is a highly emotive issue, as Jonas notes, but also a strategic and institutional one. Turkey’s entry would change the EU’s image of itself (arguably for the better), but also its core operations and its power balances. This is why it’s such a complex and contentious matter.

Dear John, Dear Marion, thank you very much for your interesting comments.

@John: I completely agree with all the advantages that you mentioned. However, I think that one of the main question is not mentioned in the seven points that you presented: Admitting Turkey in the EU would mean that Brussels has common borders with Iran, Iraq and Syria. To me, this is one of the main challenge that has not been analyzed thoroughly.
Another point that is not to be underestimated is the cultural/religious part of the question. Even though “the EU was never designed to be a religious foundation”, as you mentioned, the EU is nevertheless a “christian” community and the emotional dimension associated with the inclusion of a Muslim country should be carefully taken account.

@Marion: I don’t think that Turkey wants to include Northern Cyprus in its territory. The annexation of this region would cause so many troubles that it is not in the interest of Turkey to do so. The 3 theories that I mentioned require that Turkey develops friendly relationships with its neighbors. Cyprus is a key player in the European game of Turkey and it is not in the interest of Turkey to go on for years with this crisis. In the past, having Northern Cyprus under its zone of influence was useful for Turkey, but this is no longer the case.

Fascinating stuff, and which theory will prove to be correct, one wonders? But in the meantime, what about Northern Cyprus in this? Will Turkey shield it from all ills and tuck it under its wing, poor thing?(to misquote ‘Who killed cock robin’) Will this mean the end of reunification of Cyprus and the beginning of an annexation to Turkey permanently, or will it strengthen the recognition that the TRNC exists and won’t go away, and deserves justice and equality of rights vis a viz the south?

Thoughts on the admission of the Turkish Republic to the EU ,circulated to the European Liberal Democrat ‘Representatives Conference, Barcelona, Nov 19 2009.
The EU exists to promote Peace, Prosperity and Safety for its members, and Turkey’s inclusion would enhance all three.
Advantages to the EU and Turkey if she is admitted as a member:

1 EU producers of goods and services will have better access to a large and increasingly sophisticated economy of 70 million people which is holding up well during the present downturn.

2 The EU would have access to an active, young workforce, at a time when the populations of other EU countries are ageing.

3 The EU could for the first time number among its members a secular Muslim state, which is becoming – through its recent peace initiatives with Armenia, northern Iraq, Iran, Azerbaijan and Syria – a moderating force in a previously troubled region.

4 Admitting a secular Muslim state into its ranks would give the EU an unequalled ability to bridge the growing gulf between Islam and western Christianity which is currently causing the world’s biggest armed confrontation .

5 The EU was never designed to be a religious foundation, so the inclusion of Islamic culture and religion should be seen as an opportunity, rather than a threat, bringing greater diversity and flexibility. This flexibility could help EU countries to communicate better with their own Muslim minorities, by making cultural exchanges with Turkish Islamic institutions and leaders easier.

6 Turkey is already acting effectively to stop the illegal trafficking of drugs and people across her borders. But EU accession would bring even closer co-operation with the EU and a sharing of the economic burden; with a subsequent lowering of crime and its associated costs in member states who are the targets of this traffic.

7 A greater acknowledgement of Human Rights and free speech,in line with EU norms, will bring greater peace and stability to Turkey, as she develops the legal checks and balances to make this possible.

published by UK Liberal Democrat Friends of Turkey London SW1P3NB

Why Turkish Cypriots in the TRNC (Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus) should be granted full EU citizenship.

1 Both Turkish and Greek have been recognised as official languages on the island since Independence in 1960, when the two communities were recognsed as having equal status. Turkish Cypriots have Human Rights, including the right to be ttreated as equal partners with Greek Cypriots.

It can be seen as a breach of natural justice for the EU to admit one part of the island to EU membership without the other.

It is therefore wrong of the EU to treat Turks as second-rate citizens, without rights, by encouraging member-states to continue the many unfair economic embargoes currently suffered by Turkish Cypriots.

These severly hamper telecomunications, tourism, trade, justice, sport and even the management of universities, effectively throttling the TRNC economy. Turkish Cypriots have left in large numbers because of the crippling economic reality created by 30 years of embargoes.
The continuation of these embargoes , whose whole aim undermines the current UN-peace talks which the EU claims to support , suggests that even if the talks were to succeed, inter-communal violence would break out again as soon as Turkish troops withdrew..

2 Turkey is not the only country involved in finding a solution to the Cyprus problem: both Greece and the UK are also Guarantor Powers. It would therefore be illogical and unjust to try to insist that Turkey should pressure Turkish Cypriots into making wholsale concessions so that the talks can reach agreement .

A settlement achieved in this way would be fundamentally flawed, and would merely build inter-communal resentment for the future.

Turkey’s admission to the EU must not be allowed to be seen as her reward for pressuring Turkish Cypriots into accepting an unfair settlement of the Cyprus problem. The two issues must be dealt with completely separately.

3 The EU has voted many millions of Euros to be spent in the north of Cyprus, on electoral and other initiatives; yet none of it has reached the northern economy. The EU should make it an early priority to ensure that this money reaches the people it was meant for. .

Published by Embargoed! Suite 120 2A Ruckholt Road London E10 5NP

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