January 10, 2009
By Ariel Cohen, Ph.D.
In 2009, expect to see a more active Turkey.
It's planning to boost its foreign policy involvement in the
Caucasus, Middle East, Europe and the Mediterranean, senior Turkish
diplomats tell TREND. This shows that
Turkey is recognizing mega-trends, such as the diminishing U.S.
role in Iraq, growing Russian aspirations in South Caucasus, and
the forthcoming showdown over the Iranian nuclear program. Ankara
will be playing an important role in all these developments, trying
to secure its interests north, south, east and west.
It's also looking to modernize, which helps explain, for
example, its aspirations for European Union membership -- always an
uphill struggle. Even if the process goes slowly, many among
Turkey's elites believe that the country benefits from closer ties
with the EU, and from modernizing its legislative base.
The ruling AK Party officials believe that liberalization, which
is connected to EU integration, is weakening the role and power of
the military - a traditional bulwark on the way of Islamists to
power. Liberals, meanwhile, support Europe-style laws, which would
make Turkey more compatible with the outside world.
Opponents of Ankara's full membership in the European Union
point at the Mediterranean Union, the brainchild of the French
President Nicholas Sarkozy, as an alternative path for Turkey's
interaction with Europe. Yet, senior Turkish diplomats who spoke on
condition of anonymity, do not see the Mediterranean Union as a
substitute. The Union, they say, as well as in NATO and other
Western international organizations, should be one of the forums in
which Turkey participates.
"Turkey wants a globally effective NATO, a stronger
Turkish-American cooperation, as well as Turkey in the EU. It is
vital for the peace, stability, and cooperation," says a senior
Turkish diplomat who visited Washington last month.
How Turkey will pursue "tronger ties" with Washington remains to
be seen. Anti-American sentiment there is growing, tacitly
encouraged by some in the ruling party through propaganda films,
such as the notorious Valley of the Wolves, and provoked by the
Today, Turkey is among the most anti-American Muslim societies.
Anti-Semitism, very minor when the Ataturkist forces ruled the
secular republic, is now rising, including two attacks on
synagogues in Istanbul by Salafi terrorists affiliated with Al
Until the recent conflagration in Gaza, the government of the
Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan initiated and supported the
indirect Syrian-Israeli peace talks, although it was clear from the
beginning that such talks had little chance of success, especially
as the Bush administration was less than tepid about them.
Washington correctly viewed Syria's weak Alawi sect-based regime of
Bashar el Assad as a junior partner of Iran in the region, and
politically and psychologically unable and unwilling to a true
peace with Israel.
Turkey is trying to facilitate the Arab-Israeli rapprochement by
sponsoring Israeli-Palestinian industrial border zones, which
provide jobs for Arabs and facilitate business interactions.
Clearly, more needs to be done to reverse decades of bad blood
between Arabs and Jews in the Holy Land, including stopping the
anti-Israeli and anti-Jewish incitement in the Palestinian
educational system and the media. Here, Turkey could play a more
prominent role. Instead, Prime Minister Erdogan smashed Israel's
operation in Gaza as "inhumane", coming across as a Hamas
supporter. In the past, Turkey broke ranks with Europe and U.S. and
hosted terrorist Hamas leadership in Ankara.
Among the signs of geopolitical improvement are high-level
contacts between Turkey and Armenia. Yet the Caucasus Stability and
Cooperation Pact that the Turkish Prime Minister floated amid
Russian-Georgian hostilities last August has design flaws. It
included Russia and Turkey, together with the three South Caucasus
countries ( Georgia, Armenia, and Azerbaijan), but omitted the U.S.
and EU, as well as Iran.
Ankara attempted to address Washington's concerns when a senior
Turkish diplomat suggested that in the future the U.S. and EU will
be accommodated or integrated into the Caucasus initiative. "The
Caucasus region needs a greater American and European role," says
the senior Turkish diplomat, "and Turkey supports territorial
integrity of Georgia, including Abkhazia and South Ossetia as part
Yet, with the dividing lines in the Caucasus running deep,
questions remain. Russian leaders passionately hate Georgia's
President Mikheil Saakashvili, and Russia and Georgia came to blows
last August. Azerbaijan's military budget is greater than the whole
state budget of Armenia, and even President Dmitry Medvedev's
mediation produced a breakthrough on Nagorno-Karabakh. Ankara holds
out the carrot of opening the borders with Armenia, yet Erevan
refuses to acknowledge that it occupies Azerbaijani land.
Turkey is an important energy transit country. Ankara played an
important role by participating in the summit of three presidents:
Abdullah Gul, Ilham Aliev and Gurbanguli Berdymuhammedov, in port
of Turkmenbashi on the Caspian coast.
While not producing a breakthrough on the trans-Caspian gas
pipeline, which would connect to the proposed Nabucco project and
bring the Caspian gas to the European markets, the summit indicated
that such a pipeline is possible. It also showed that Turkey could
play a major role in its implementation.
Turkey played a positive role in Afghanistan, and brought
together the leaders of Pakistan and Afghanistan for talks which
seemed to produce a better dynamic between Kabul and Islamabad.
Pakistani stability, Turkish diplomats say, is linked to the fight
against the Taliban, while a more cohesive Afghani identity is
necessary to improve security and find the way out of the current
Finally, Turkey will watch closely how the incoming Obama
administration deals with the Armenian genocide resolution, which
the Armenian lobby and its supporters in Congress propose yearly to
the U.S. government.
While the lobby is bi-partisan, many of its allies are in the
Democratic Party, which holds a majority in both houses of the U.S.
Congress. The Turkish diplomat warned that a future approval of the
"g-word" resolution by Congress would cause U.S.-Turkish relations
to deteriorate abruptly -- an undesirable development on many
counts. On its part, Turkey is willing to participate in tighter
sanctions against Iran, if and when sanctioned by the U.N. Security
Council -- an unlikely development in view of Moscow's and
Beijing's support of Teheran's regime.
In the future, the relations between the U.S. and Turkey will
remain complex, and at times, tense. Yet there are many common
regional interests, from the Caucasus to Iraq, Iran and
Afghanistan, which dictate further dialogue -- and, as much as
possible, cooperation between Ankara and Washington.
Ariel Cohen visited Istanbul in November and received briefings
from Turkish diplomats in December.
Ariel Cohen is
senior research fellow in Russian and Eurasian studies at the
First appeared on Trend News
In 2009, expect to see a more active Turkey. It's planning to boost its foreign policy involvement in the Caucasus, Middle East, Europe and the Mediterranean, senior Turkish diplomats tell TREND. This shows that Turkey is recognizing mega-trends, such as the diminishing U.S. role in Iraq, growing Russian aspirations in South Caucasus, and the forthcoming showdown over the Iranian nuclear program. Ankara will be playing an important role in all these developments, trying to secure its interests north, south, east and west.
Ariel Cohen, Ph.D.
Senior Research Fellow in Russian and Eurasian Studies and International Energy Policy in the Douglas and Sarah Allison Center for Foreign and National Security Policy, a division of the Kathryn and Shelby Cullom Davis Institute for International Studies, at The Heritage Foundation
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