TURKISH FOREIGN POLICY – TÜRK DIŞ POLİTİKASI

Turkish foreign policy has been influenced throughout the history not only by her strategic location and dynamics of her society, but also by aspirations and interests of major powers of the world. Indeed, Turkey has often been qualified as a bridge between Europe and Asia, between eastern and western cultures.

Ottoman Empire, founded on the territories of today’s Turkey at the very beginning of the fourteenth century became one of the largest and most influential empires of Europe and the Middle East in less than two centuries.

The conquest of Istanbul by the Turcs in 1453 was considered by the historians of the world as marking the end of the Middle Ages and the beginning of a new age.

Particularly during the period of Süleyman the Magnificent, the Ottoman Empire reached its apogee and dominated the entire Balkan Peninsula, Hungary and a large part of Austria up to the doorsteps of Vienna. She extended her territories to the Middle East and North Africa also. It was an era of competition and confrontation among the big powers. Like the other empires, Ottomans tried to influence the world politics of the time.

During the following centuries, however, Ottoman territories have shrunk as a result of wars and foreign policy maneuvers of her opponents. Towards the end of the 19th century big powers of Europe qualified the Ottoman Empire as a “sick man of Europe” and engaged in political maneuvers to share her territories. They presented themselves as protectors of Christian minorities and tried to interfere in the internal affairs of the Ottoman State. In spite of all this Ottoman Empire was a major European power in the eve of the First Wold War.

Ottomans entered the First World War as an ally of Germany. Although she fought successfully in Dardanelles and several other fronts, at the end of the war she was one of the biggest losers. She lost large territories and an important part of her population. 27 countries have emerged from the former lands of the Ottoman Empire. Sevres Treaty imposed to Ottomans by the Allied powers was one of the cruelest treaties concluded after the war. The territories left to Turkey by Sevres were only a small part of the Anatolian peninsula; the remaining lands had to be shared by the winners of the war. The Turkish straights would be put under the control of foreign countries. Economy would be supervised by big powers. Ethnic Kurdish and Armenian groups were promised independent territories and the protection of the Christian minorities would be secured by foreign countries. This treaty has been rejected and never implemented by the national forces that fought successfully a war of liberation under the leadership of Mustafa Kemal Atatürk against the Greek army invading large parts of Anatolia with the support and encouragement of major European countries.

New Turkish state, founded in 1920 in Ankara negotiated and concluded with success the Lausanne Treaty that was the only document signed after the First World War where a looser of the Great War was able to negotiate and conclude a Peace Treaty with the winners of the War on equal footing, under equal conditions and respecting each other sovereign rights. Turkey was able to get most of her basic goals and expectations in Lausanne.

The Lausanne Treaty has not only established the borders of Turkey, solved the Turkish Straits issue, the question of minorities, eliminated the capitulations that had made Ottoman Empire economically dependent to other countries, but more importantly it has established a new order whereby the new Turkish State was recognized as the representative of the Turkish people having equal sovereign rights with other nations of the world. Some issues left open in Lausanne, like the drawing of Turkish-Iraqi border and Hatay question, have been solved later.

The foreign policy of the new Turkish State was shaped on the basis of principles defended in Lausanne by the Turkish Delegation under the chairmanship of İsmet İnönü. After Lausanne and the proclamation of the Turkish Republic in 1923 Turkey has adopted a policy of peace and friendly cooperation with all countries of the region and of the world.

Turkey declared from the outset that she would have no territorial claims, but she would be determined to defend her territories and interests against any aggression. Atatürk’s motto “peace in the country, peace in the world” reflects basic philosophy of Turkish foreign policy implemented since then. Another important pillar of the Turkish foreign policy has been “full independence”. Atatürk has rejected any foreign interference in the shaping of Turkish foreign policy and other national political decisions. The principle of full equality with other nations has been carefully observed.

A few mounts after the signing of Lausanne Treaty, Turkey has founded a modern republic and embarked to a comprehensive reform program. She adopted Latin script instead of Arabic, all basic laws have been changed in line with the most modern legislation of the western countries, gender equality, European way of dressing and Gregorian calendar have been adopted. Turkey granted to women political rights, 11 years before France. Most importantly, constitution and the state system have been shaped in line with modern democratic countries and in a short period of time secularism became the backbone of the state.

Thus, Turkey emerged as the first and so far, the only secular democracy among all the countries with Muslim population. The motto of the Republic was: “The sovereignty belongs to the people without any condition.” Such unprecedented reforms gave Turkey a very high prestige in the West and in her region. Leaders of the countries like Iran and Afghanistan considered Turkey as a model, a source of inspiration. Turkey, with this new image, started to establish close ties with a number of countries. In 1926 she signed an agreement with Britain, solving the Turkish-Iraqi border problem. She concluded a Balkan Pact with Greece and Serbia in 1934. She signed Sadabat Pact with Iran, Iraq and Afghanistan. The two pacts created a better security environment in the Western and Eastern neighborhood of Turkey.

The Montreux Convention signed in 1936 improved, in a just and lasting way, the conditions adopted in Lausanne Treaty and provided better sovereign rights for Turkey. The Lausanne Treaty and The Montreux Convention are among very few international agreements that were concluded before the Second World War and are still in force.

During the first years of independence Turkey established a balance in her relations with the Western countries and the Soviet Union. She signed an agreement with Britain to contain Mussolini’s expansionist policies in the region. Turkish-Soviet relations and cooperation developed on the basis of mutual respect and non interference in internal affairs.

In that period Turkey, with her reforms and achievements became a source of inspiration for the leaders of regional countries like Rıza Shah of Iran and Emanullah Han of Afghanistan. Turkish policy of peace has also been appreciated by former enemies like Greece. Greek Prime minister Venizelos, impressed by the policies of peace and friendship of Atatürk, has proposed him as a candidate for Nobel Peace Prize in 1934.

During these years Turkey invited leading professors of German Universities, oppressed and discriminated by the Nazis. Tens of German professors of Jewish origin or political opponents of the Nazi regime came to Turkey to teach in theTurkish universities.

During the last years of Atatürk, Turkey, with a very active diplomacy, forced France to give independence to Hatay (Alexandrette) province while withdrawing from Syria where she was a mandatory power. The wish of Atatürk to see Hatay joining Turkey, a target set already in early 1920’s could be accomplished shortly after his death.

When Atatürk died in 1938 a French journalist qualified him as “probably the only statesman that died with no enemies in the world.”

After his death, his close friend, a former general, a hero of the war of liberation and the chief of Turkish delegation in Lausanne Conference İsmet İnönü was elected as President of the Republic. He had a very delicate task of keeping Turkey as a neutral country during the war despite strong pressures from Churchill and Roosevelt. Thanks to this policy of neutrality Turkey and Turkish people have suffered practically no damage during the Second World War when more than 60 million people perished all around the world.

After the war, during the Yalta and Potsdam Conferences, Stalin, then a respected ally of western powers, claimed territories in eastern Turkey and proposed to change the Montreux Convention to get rights of control on the Turkish straights. Turkey who was practically alone in this period resisted Soviet demands and expressed a strong will to defend her independence, territorial integrity and sovereignty.

Turkish forces played an active role during the Korean War in 1950 where they suffered 730 casualties, second to American forces.

Shortly after the beginning of the cold war, Turkey joined western organizations like European Economic Cooperation (OECE) in 1948, the Council of Europe in 1949. She joined NATO in 1952 and signed an Association Agreement with the perspective of full membership with the EEC (later European Union) in 1963.

During the Cold War period Turkey was controlling practically 30 per cent of the borders between NATO and Warsaw Pact countries. She provided valuable deterrence and intelligence capabilities to NATO. During this period, Turkish Foreign Policy was influenced by NATO’s general positions.

Turkish-Greek relations have been deteriorated in 1955 as a result of Greek terrorist activities in Cyprus. After that period Turkey had a delicate policy of balancing the NATO requirements and her conflicting interests with Greece in the Aegean and in Cyprus. As a matter of fact, the two countries had long standing divergencies in the Aegean Sea like the territorial waters, air space, continental shelf, demilitarized status of the islands. The contractual rights and privileges of the Turkish minority in Greece and Greek minority in Turkey were also conflicting issues. None of these problems have been solved so far.

After the conclusion of a treaty between Turkey, Greece and United Kingdom in 1960, establishing an independent state in Cyprus, Turkish- Greek relations had been normalized for a while. But following the attacks of Greek Cypriots against the Turks at the end of 1963 and the expulsion of Turkish Cypriots from the government, parliament and the administration of Cyprus, a new and more serous period of tension started between the two countries.

In 1964 when Turkish government was preparing to embark a military intervention to Cyprus to stop the attacks of the Greek Cypriots, President Lyndon Johnson sent a strongly worded note to Turkey aiming to discourage Turkish Government from a military intervention claiming that in case of a Soviet attack against Turkey, following the Turkish military operation in Cyprus, NATO countries might not feel obliged to come to the defence of Turkey according to the article 5 of the NATO Treaty. This created bitter feelings in Turkey and forced her to reconsider some of her foreign policy assumptions and assessments.

Afterwards Turkey gave priority to develop her national defence industries and tried to follow a multi-dimensional foreign policy aiming at defending in the best possible way her political and economic interests. She improved her relations with Muslim countries, joined the Islamic Conference in 1969, developed stronger diplomatic and economic relations with the Arab countries, and increased her economic and industrial cooperation with the Soviet Union.

In 1974 the Greek military Junta who had taken power in Athens a few years ago, instigated a military coup in Cyprus to overthrow President Makarios. They replaced him with Nikos Samson, a notorious terrorist leader of EOKA. Obviously, the aim of the coup was to join the Island with Greece and to force Turkish Cypriots to leave the Island or to live as a minority with limited rights.

Turkish government led by the Prime Minister Bülent Ecevit tried to persuade Prime Minister Wilson of Great Britain for a joint intervention in Cyprus. Britain was not willing to accept it. Then Turkey decided to intervene alone using her rights granted by London and Zurich agreements.

In 2004 the Secretary General of the United Nations Kofi Annan proposed a plan for the settlement of the Cyprus issue to be submitted to the approval of The Turkish and Greek Cypriots separately. This plan would provide fewer advantages to Turkish Cypriots compared to 1960 agreements. Still Turkish Cypriots accepted it, but Greek Cypriots rejected. Despite this rejection Greek Cypriots have been accepted to the EU as a full member.

During all these turbulent periods, successive Turkish governments followed the foreign policy principles laid down in the early days of the republic. In a number of issues Turkey was considered as a reliable partner by the countries of the region. For example, during Iran-Iraq war where Turkey remained neutral she was asked by the Iranian government to represent her interests in Baghdad and by the Iraqi government to represent her interests in Teheran. This is a very rare situation in the history of international relations. Turkey was also elected as the permanent president of the Economic and Social Committee of the Islamic Conference.

At the end of 1995 a new crisis happened in the Aegean. After a shipwreck on the shores of an uninhabited Islet very close to Turkey, Kardak, Greek navy landed troops claiming that Kardak belongs to Greece. In no international document this islet was given to Greece and according to the Lausanne Treaty the fate of such islets should be decided among the interested countries. After the failure of diplomatic initiatives Turkey was left with no choice but to send troops to a neighboring islet showing her determination not to accept faits accomplish. Finally, Greece withdrew her troops and the status quo ante remained in force.
After the end of the Cold War, Turkey adopted her foreign policy to the new conditions prevailing in the world. She tried to follow a multi-dimensional foreign policy aiming at defending, in the best possible way, her political and economic interests in the region and in the world. She improved her relations with Muslim countries; she joined the Islamic Conference already in 1969, developed stronger diplomatic and economic relations with Arab countries, and increased her economic and industrial cooperation with Russia. She started an extensive assistance program for Central Asian countries; she participated in the NATO operations in Bosnia, Kosovo and Afghanistan. She established new economic and political ties with African countries. She supported Azerbaijan who suffered an Armenian invasion, and lost 20% of her territories with 1 million inhabitants displaced. She actively participated in the efforts of Minsk Group to find a peaceful agreement to the Nagorno- Karabagh issue between Azerbaijan and Armenia. She supported the legitimate rights of the Palestinians.

During the first and second Gulf Wars, Turkey has not been militarily engaged in combats, but has spent diplomatic efforts to find solutions. She also provided shelter and humanitarian assistance to more than 400.000 Iraqi refugees escaping to Turkey from Saddam Hussein forces.

In March 2003, Turkish Parliament rejected American demands to open a front from Turkey to Iraq on the grounds that Turkish Constitution does permit the invitation of foreign troops to Turkey only in case of international legitimacy. Since there was no explicit UN Security Council resolution permitting an international military action against Iraq, any authorization from the Turkish Parliament would be unconstitutional.

Obviously, this decision of the Turkish Parliament disappointed American authorities and Turkish-American relations have been negatively influenced for a while.

Turkey had also some difficulties in her relations with the European Union. The membership negotiations which started in October 3rd, 2005 have suffered unnecessary delays. Turkey has been able so far to start 13 negotiation chapters out of 35 and could close so far only one. Despite a lot of arguments presented against Turkey, the main reason of the delay is apparently the size of her population, since the population of each member country determines the weight of her vote in the European Council. Therefore when Turkey will be a member, she will have more votes than any member country except Germany. For the same reason the number of Turkish parliamentarians in the European Parliament will be second after German Delegation. Furthermore, the financial contributions to Turkey, particularly to Turkish farmers, will exceed the actual potential of the present EU budget. For these and similar reasons France, Germany and Austria have proposed for Turkey a special status instead of full membership which was rejected by the Turkish government and opposition.

Turkish-Armenian relations also passed through a difficult period. As a result of the initiatives of the United States, Russia, Switzerland and some European countries Turkey and Armenia started confidential talks in Geneva and have signed two protocols to be approved by both countries’ parliaments. Opposition parties in Turkey reacted negatively to such protocols since they contained only the expectations of the Armenian government, like opening of the borders and normalization of the diplomatic relations without any reference to the previous demands of Turkey such as the withdrawal of Armenian forces from occupied Azeri territories, the return of displaced persons to their homes, and the solution of the Nagorno-Karabagh problem. There was also no reference to Kars Treaty concluded between Turkey and Armenia in 1921 which constitutes the basis of the relations between the two countries. Furthermore, Armenian Constitutional Court interpreted the protocols in an unacceptable way for Turkey. Azerbaijan reacted also to these protocols. Although United States and European countries strongly suggested the ratification of them Turkish Parliament has not considered such ratification up to now.

On combatting Kurdish terrorist group PKK, Turkey has found only limited support from her allies and neighbors. Coalition forces in Iraq have combatted against practically all terrorist groups in Iraq with the exception of the PKK. Iraqi government and local authorities in Northern Iraq failed to force the PKK to leave the Iraqi territory, and they rejected any Turkish land operation to be conducted for that purpose. Northern Iraq continues to be a safe haven for the terrorists and the reactions of the international community to that has been very limited.

More recently the so called Arab Spring forced Turkey to take some radical positions that were to a large extent criticized at home and abroad. Turkey has initially suggested Husnu Mubarek and former leaders of Libya and Tunisia to listen to the voice of their people and to adopt secular principles in shaping new administrations. This suggestion was rejected particularly by the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt. This radical Muslim organization has won the elections in Egypt, Tunisia and influences some other countries of the region.

Turkey took a very strong reaction against the Syrian government with whom previously she had concluded several agreements and established close relations. Turkish government gave strong political and logistic support to opposition groups that were permitted to organize meetings in Turkey. In northern Syria, some armed groups, including KYP, a pro-PKK terror group, have established so called “liberated zones” which might create serious problems for Turkey during and in the aftermaths of the Syrian crisis. There is an intense debate in the Turkish parliament and the Turkish medias on the situation in Syria and the majority of the people is visibly against the involvement of Turkey in any military operation. Turkey received more than 140.000 refugees from Syria so far.

All these developments may pull Turkey into political, sectarian and even armed conflicts in the Middle East. She should better return to the principle of non-involvement in the disputes among the countries of the region and take a strong position against any attack aiming at innocent civilians.

In the medium term, Turkish secular, democratic state system and policies of peace established during the initial periods of the republic may serve as a source of inspiration for the region provided that Turkey solves some of her own internal problems in the fields of democracy, human rights and individual freedoms.
Turkey’s early membership to the European Union would be an asset for her, for the region and for Europe. The recognition of Turkey’s security, political and strategic interests by her allies would help her to play a more efficient role in the area. The concepts like strategic partnership, as often referred to, may than have a more meaningful value.

Turkey has a number of important assets to conduct a successful foreign policy and one of them is her population as mentioned above. She has a young population which actually reached 75 million and still growing while the population of most of the EU countries is declining. In Europe, Turkey comes second after Germany and ranks first with regard to the people under 40. According to US bureau of census, Turkey’s population will reach 86.4 million by the year 2050. The dynamics of the Turkish population will be an important asset for the EU in the future in keeping up the actual economic and social balances.
The size of Turkey’s territory also represents an important strategic and economic value. She ranks number one in Europe with the exception of Russia. Although Turkey is not among the richest countries of the world in terms of water resources, Euphrates and Tigris rivers flowing from Turkey to Syria and Iraq will have a higher value than oil in the long run since the oil reserves will be depleted in the coming decades. The arable lands of Turkey provide an important potential for the supply of food for herself, for the region and for Europe. Actually, Turkey is among the most important suppliers of fruits and vegetables and other foodstuff to the European Union.

Turkey ranks number 16 in the world and 6th in Europe in terms of the gross national product calculated on the basis of purchasing power parity. She has been one of the fastest growing economies among emerging markets in the last two decades. The Customs Union agreement between Turkey and the EU provides significant advantages to both sides. Despite the fact that this agreement covers only industrial products and keeps aside agriculture and services, it helped to increase the volume of trade between Turkey and EU.

Turkish armed forces come second in NATO after the United States in the size and strength of conventional forces and it has an important deterrence capability.
In some of these areas Turkey faces some problems as well. Turkey comes behind most of the European countries in Human Development Index of the UN. She ranks behind the EU countries in individual prosperity as has been shown in Legatum index. In terms of economy the relatively high current accounts deficit is a matter of concern. In areas of income distribution, social security, the flow of foreign capital, trade balance, interest rates, accumulated debt burden and unemployment Turkey also is behind a number of European countries. Therefore, upgrading her position in all of these areas may help her to increase the effectiveness of her foreign policy.
In the diplomatic field Turkey has a very special position. She is the only country that is a member of the Western organizations like NATO, OECD, Council of Europe and the Islamic Conference at the same time. There is no other country in the world with Moslem population that has a democratic and secular constitution. However, Turkey is the only European country neighboring a non-democratic and unstable area full of conflicts and confrontations. The Arab-Israeli wars, Iran-Iraq war, the wars between Azerbaijan and Armenia, Georgia and Russia, and finally the civil war in Syria, all happened in the immediate vicinity of Turkey. In spite of all these turbulences, she was able to manage to be the only country in the Middle East that has not engaged herself in a war in the last 90 years.

A number of major powers and regional countries have always had expectations from Turkey for their own interest. In an area with a diameter of 1.000 miles around Turkey, lies more than 70 per cent of the world’s oil and natural gas reserves. Consequently, Turkey is very close to oil producing countries and has become a hub for the oil and natural gas pipelines. She is actually a link between the Middle Eastern and Central Asian oil and gas producers and the international markets. This role of Turkey will further increase with the construction of Nabuco pipeline.

With all these assets and problems Turkey has a unique position to be fully taken into consideration in all the strategic, political and economic assessments related to her region. Although many consider her as a bridge between Europe and the Middle East, it would be more appropriate to appreciate her role as a springboard of democracy towards the region. In this area, what is missing more is precisely democracy. Since no war has happened so far in the world among democratic countries, the spread of democracy to the region may also help to bring peace and stability.


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