About us   Editorial Board   Advisory Board   Subscribe   Contact us  
 


CAUCASUS UPDATE

In this section, we publish the weekly analysis of the major events taking place in the Caucasus and beyond. The Caucasus Update is written by our Senior Editor Alexander Jackson. Click here to subscribe.

Is Turkey turning East?, CU Issue 53, November 2, 2009

For some time, there have been fears that Turkey has begun moving away from its traditional Euro-Atlantic orientation, towards the Middle East and the Muslim world. Turkey’s condemnation of Israel’s attack on Gaza in January was followed by Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s walk-out during a debate with Israeli President Shimon Peres at the World Economic Forum.

In early October, Turkey vetoed Israel’s participation in a joint air-force exercise, again citing its conduct in Gaza. In the same week Turkish TV aired a show portraying Israeli soldiers as child- killers, provoking fury in Tel Aviv.

On a recent visit to Iran, the Turkish premier signed a gas deal and several economic cooperation agreements (Press TV, October 28). Before the visit, Mr Erdogan defended Iran’s right to nuclear energy and accused those countries which oppose Tehran’s atomic program of hypocrisy (Guardian, October 26). Iran’s President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad was understandably delighted, and pundits in the West were understandably shaken.

The New York Times argued that lack of progress on EU membership was driving Turkey away (NY Times, October 27). The Christian Science Monitor called it ‘worrisome’ (Christian Science Monitor, October 29). Overall, the assumption seems to be that Turkey’s growing clout, and disillusionment with its EU membership talks, is leading it towards a closer relationship with autocratic Middle Eastern states like Iran and Syria.

So are Europe and America ‘losing’ Turkey? Probably not. The evidence in support of this theory is disjointed and selective, and ignores other key facts. On Israel, for instance, this argument assumes that Turkey’s fury over Gaza is in some way manufactured, that it is designed entirely to win support on the ‘Arab street’ (and indeed the Persian street).

Although Turkey’s leaders are not blind to the credit that this will earn them in the Muslim world (also, within Turkey itself), there is little doubt that their anger is genuine. Turkey has been attempting to encourage progress on the Arab-Israeli peace process for years, and saw its fragile gains destroyed during Operation Cast Lead. Rightly or wrongly, Ankara sees Israel as mainly responsible. As for the TV program, it would be absurd to assume that the Turkish government was responsible for the content and the timing.

It is also odd to link Turkish anger at Israel with turning away from the EU. For all its links with Brussels and Washington, the Jewish state is not an integral part of ‘the West’, geographically or politically. Ankara is quite capable of opposing Israel’s actions without abandoning its EU membership application. And although the reputation of that process is heavily tarnished, and there is significant frustration amongst ordinary Turks over European hostility to Turkish membership, EU integration remains a priority of the AKP Government.

Senior Turkish officials have made this plain in recent days. They also poured cold water on the whole idea that Turkey is turning East – “Is it so easy to change direction?” asked President Abdullah Gul rhetorically (Today’s Zaman, October 30).

This statement hints at the heart of the matter. Complex states do not have a single geopolitical ‘direction’. President Gul visited Serbia on October 26th, but this hardly means that Ankara is seeking to re-establish Ottoman influence in the Balkans, as some seem to believe it is doing in the Middle East. To take another parallel, no-one would seriously believe that increased US diplomacy towards China would be a sign of abandoning NATO and Europe.

Ankara’s foreign policy, now more than ever, is famously focused on ‘zero problems with neighbours’ (RFE/RL, October 30). Given Turkey’s unique position at the confluence of so many different regions, this policy is bound to involve dealing with states whom the West distrusts – Iran, Russia, and Syria, for instance.

Expecting Turkey to suspend cooperation with Tehran is an easy judgement to make in Washington or Brussels, but not so in Ankara. An otherwise hostile Wall Street Journal acknowledged this on October 30, recognising that “nations do not have the luxury of picking their neighbours” (Wall Street Journal, October 30). Turkey needs Iran to cooperate: on energy, trade, and on containing Kurdish militants.

In any case, Turkey has absolutely no interest in a nuclear Iran. What most commentaries fearing a Turkish-Iranian alliance ignore is that, just a few weeks ago, Ankara ordered advanced Patriot missile batteries from the US (Eurasia Daily Monitor, September 16). It was keen to insist that this was not due to any threat, but the move is obviously in response to Iran’s strategic missile programme. Mr Erdogan’s praise of President Ahmadinejad was, given this context, simple diplomacy, made before a visit in which he hoped to secure extensive trade and energy deals. It would have been surprising, and contrary to Turkey’s foreign policy, to have prepared for his visit by thundering against the country’s nuclear program.

The ‘losing Turkey’ argument – which assumes that, given the AK Party’s Islamist past, Turkey is also becoming more Islamic in nature - also ignores moves such as the thaw with Christian Armenia. This was also undertaken in the framework of the same “zero problems” concept.

Assuming that Turkey is somehow moving away from the West, towards the Middle East, or towards some kind of pact with Iran, is a narrow view. It ignores historic rivalry between them, fails to recognise Turkish fears of an Iranian nuclear weapon (whatever Mr Erdogan might say in public), and conflates Israel with the EU or NATO. Most importantly, it underestimates Ankara’s foreign policy. Turkey is smart enough to be able to look East and West at the same time.



"Is Turkey turning East?, CU Issue 53, November 2, 2009" | 0 comments
The comments are owned by the poster. We aren't responsible for their content.
PREVIOUS ISSUES

  Caspian Compromise Backfires for Russia and Iran, CU Issue 83, November 24, 2010
  Turkey in a Tight Spot on Missile Defense, CU Issue 82, November 11, 2010
  The OSCE and Kyrgyzstan’s Election, CU Issue 81, October 30, 2010
  Unblocking the US-Azerbaijan Relationship, CU Issue 80, October 07, 2010
  Nabucco Pipeline: Quo Vadis?, CU Issue 79, September 30, 2010
  Russia tightens its grip in the South Caucasus, CU Issue 78, August 23, 2010
  Armenian Politics: Rigidity Versus Flexibility, CU Issue 77, August 10, 2010
  Russia and Georgia: Ready To Talk?, CU Issue 76, July 21, 2010
  Can the US walk and chew gum at the same time?, CU Issue 75, July 9, 2010
  The Kyrgyzstan Crisis – A Qualified Success for Turkish Diplomacy?, CU Issue 74, June 24, 2010
  Brussels downgrades the Caucasus, CU Issue 73, June 07, 2010
  NATO’s New Strategic Concept and the Caspian Region, CU Issue 72, June 01, 2010
  Joe Biden and European Security, CU Issue 71, May 13, 2010
  Behind the US-Azerbaijan row, CU Issue 70, May 6, 2010
  Turkey and Iran: The risks of failure, CU Issue 69, April 30, 2010
  Kazakhstan, the OSCE, and the crisis in Kyrgyzstan, CU Issue 68, April 19, 2010
  The Implications of the Moscow Bombings, CU Issue 67, April 12, 2010
  Iran Manoeuvres for a role in Karabakh, CU Issue 66, April 5, 2010
  The EU and Abkhazia: Between a rock and a hard place, CU Issue 65, March 16, 2010
  Fallout from the US ‘Genocide’ vote, CU Issue 64, March 9, 2010
  Ukraine's elections and future of GUAM, CU Issue 63, February 10, 2010
  Less Democracy, More Security: Kazakhstan and the OSCE, CU Issue 62, January 18, 2010
  Tackling the North Caucasus Insurgency: Development or Rhetoric?, CU Issue 61, January 11, 2010
  The Caspian Region in 2010, CU Issue 60, January 4, 2010
  The Caspian Region in 2010, CU Issue 59, December 31, 2009
  The Turkmenistan-China Pipeline Changes the Energy Balance, CU Issue 58, December 21, 2009
  Russia’s European Security Treaty, CU Issue 57, December 7, 2009
  The ‘Kidnapping War’ in Georgia and its Implications, CU Issue 56, December 3, 2009
  Azerbaijan Shifts its Energy Priorities, CU Issue 55, November 23, 2009
  The South Caucasian States and Afghanistan, CU Issue 54, November 11, 2009
  Is Turkey turning East?, CU Issue 53, November 2, 2009
  What is Russia’s Gameplan for Iran?, CU Issue 52, October 26, 2009
  Turkey, Armenia and Azerbaijan: Where Next?, CU Issue 51, October 19, 2009
  The Armenians of Georgia: A New Flashpoint in the Caucasus?, CU Issue 50, October 12, 2009
  Turkey’s EU Membership: Will The ‘Armenian Opening’ Help?, CU Issue 49, October 5, 2009
  The Missile Defence Shift: Implications for the Caucasus, CU Issue 48, September 22, 2009
  Rising Tensions in the Black Sea , CU Issue 47, September 14, 2009
  Armenia, Turkey, and Azerbaijan: The Clock Is Ticking, CU Issue 46, September 7, 2009
  The Battle of the Bases in Central Asia, CU Issue 45, August 31, 2009
  Russia, Israel, and the S-300s, CU Issue 44, August 24, 2009
  The motivations behind Turkey's 'Kurdish Initiative', CU Issue 43, August 17, 2009
  The Implications of the Turkmenistan-Azerbaijan Dispute, CU Issue 42, August 10, 2009
  What has changed since the August war?, CU Issue 41, August 3, 2009
  The Internal Dynamics of Armenia’s Karabakh Policy, CU Issue 40, July 20, 2009
  Gazprom’s Baku Triumph, CU Issue 39, July 06, 2009
  Ingushetia: The New Chechnya?, CU Issue 38, June 29, 2009
  Georgias Economy - A Matter for Diplomats, CU Issue 37, June 22, 2009
  ‘Progress’ In The Nagorno-Karabakh Peace Process, CU Issue 36, June 08, 2009
  Iran's Azerbaijanis and the presidential election, CU Issue 35, June 01, 2009
  Nabucco and South Stream - The Race Heats Up, CU Issue 34, May 25, 2009
  China and Central Asia, CU Issue 33, May 19, 2009
  Russia, Georgia, and NATO - A Bad Week, CU Issue 32, May 11, 2009
  The Obama Administration’s Emerging Caucasus Policy, CU Issue 31, April 27, 2009
  Integration and Division in the Caspian Sea, CU Issue 30, April 20, 2009
  The Turkish-Armenian Rapprochement - Implications for the South Caucasus, CU Issue 29, April 13, 2009
  Turkey's local elections and Armenian issue, CU Issue 28, April 6, 2009
  Is There Life Left In The Nabucco Project?, CU Issue 27, March 30, 2009
  Problems and Prospects for Russian Military Reform, CU Issue 26, March 23, 2009
  Russia and Georgia: Not back to war, CU Issue 25, March 16, 2009
  Armenia: Heading towards crisis?, CU Issue 24, March 9, 2009
  Drug trafficking in the Caucasus, CU Issue 23, February 23, 2009
  Russian-led military block: A real counterweight to NATO?, CU Issue 22, February 16, 2009
  Are the International Missions in Georgia still relevant?, CU Issue 21, February 9, 2009
  Israel and Azerbaijan: Baku’s Balancing Act, CU Issue 20, February 2, 2009
  The North Caucasus in 2009: A Bleak Forecast, CU Issue 19, January 26, 2009
  The Military Balance in Nagorno-Karabakh, CU Issue 18, January 19, 2009
  Russia, Iran, and Barack Obama in 2009, Part II, CU Issue 17, January 12, 2009
  Looking forward to 2009 in the Caucasus and beyond, Part I, CU Issue 16, January 5, 2009
  The opportunities and the risks of NATO’s new supply routes, CU Issue 15, December 22, 2008
  The Black Sea Ambitions of Armenia, CU Issue 14, December 15, 2008
  Another Small Step for Nabucco, CU Issue 13, December 8, 2008
  Will Saakashvili survive politically?, CU Issue 12, December 1, 2008
  The latest fashion: conflict mediation, CU Issue 11, November 24, 2008
  The Baku Energy Summit, CU Issue 10, November 17, 2008
  Obama and the Caucasus, CU Issue 9, November 10, 2008
  Kazakhstan's oil options, CU Issue 8, November 3, 2008
  Is the Minsk Group being sidelined?, CU Issue 7, October 27, 2008
  Gas and oil developments in the Caspian region, CU Issue 6, October 20, 2008
  Where next for the Georgian peace process?, CU Issue 5, October 8, 2008
  Unrest in the North Caucasus, CU Issue 4, September 29, 2008
  Saakashvili's future, CU Issue 3, September 22, 2008
  Iran after the Georgian War, CU Issue 2, September 15, 2008
  Football diplomacy, CU Issue 1, September 8, 2008
       
 
  © 2006-2010 CRIA
  All rights reserved

Editorial Board
Advisory Board
Our Authors

Back Issues
Caucasus Update
Current Issue

Contact Us
Subscribe
Join us on Facebook