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Is Turkey moving away from the West ? 20 mars 2007

Posted by Acturca in Turkey / Turquie, Turkey-EU / Turquie-UE.
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Today’s Zaman (Turkey), 19.03.2007

Sahin Alpay

Problems in Turkey’s relations with both the EU and the US have prompted the question, is Turkey moving away from the West? Some ask the Americans or the Europeans, « Who lost Turkey? » Others ask the Turks, « Who lost the West? »

There is no doubt that policies pursued by the EU and the US have alienated the majority of Turks from the West. The sharply declining support for EU membership and the dismal state of America’s image with the Turkish public are clear indications of this.

But does the Turkish public’s strong reaction to EU and US policies support claims that Turkey is moving away from the West toward the Muslim world under the « Islamist » Justice and Development Party government? Does the « Nationalist upsurge » in Turkey mean that the country is turning its back on the West and becoming another Middle Eastern country? I do not agree one bit with such claims.

Problems in Turkey’s relations with the US or the EU are nothing new. Three important crises erupted between Turkey and the US during the years of the Cold War when Turkey was almost unconditionally allied with the West. In 1962 Washington, without consultation with Ankara, made a deal with Moscow to withdraw Jupiter nuclear missiles from Turkey in return for the withdrawal of Russian missiles from Cuba. This deal severely damaged Ankara’s trust in the US. In 1964, during the crisis in Cyprus, President Johnson sent a letter warning Ankara that American military hardware was not to be used in a Cyprus operation and, more importantly, a Turkish military intervention on the island might in turn provoke Soviet involvement, in the event of which Ankara should not automatically expect a NATO response. This letter was to lead Ankara to seek a more multi-dimensional foreign policy and to the warming of relations with Moscow. This was also when Prime Minister Ismet Inonu declared, « A new world can arise and Turkey can find its place in it. » In 1974 when Turkey did intervene militarily in Cyprus, the US Congress imposed a direct arms sales embargo on Turkey, which once again made Ankara realize that it could not always rely on her superpower ally.

When the US decided to invade Iraq, despite warnings from Ankara to the contrary the Turkish parliament decided not to cooperate. This decision, a sign of the maturity of Turkish democracy, was a great disappointment to Neocon and Pentagon circles. Despite friction and tension since the invasion of Iraq, neither Ankara nor Washington has devalued bilateral relations. The two sides still consider themselves as « strategic partners. » It is highly likely that current problems in bilateral relations will prove temporary like earlier ones. This is because what unites Turkey and the US in the long run weighs far more heavily than what currently separates them.

There have been many downs in Turkey’s relations with the EU too. The separatist terrorist organization the PKK was, for many years, regarded almost as a « Kurdish liberation movement » in many EU member states. In 1997 Turkey was excluded from the list of candidates for membership despite having entered the customs union with the EU just two years earlier. In 1999 EU member states refused to arrest and hand over to Turkey the PKK leader who was traveling around in Europe. The parliaments of a number of EU member states adopted « Armenian genocide » resolutions. In 2004 some member states put forward the offer of « privileged partnership » instead of full membership for Turkey. In 2006 the EU decided to suspend accession negotiations with Turkey in eight of 35 chapters of the EU Acquis. All these events have negatively affected Turkey-EU relations, but there was no « train wreck » and Turkey’s accession process is on track.

The current problems in Turkey-EU relations are also likely to prove temporary as previous ones. This is because the relationship is based on mutual interests. Current problems are due partly to the enlargement fatigue the EU is facing and partly to a serious crisis of leadership in Europe. That European politicians who do not care about the EU’s credibility and do not understand the importance of the EU accession process for the consolidation of democracy and modernization of the economy in Turkey have appeared on the scene is certainly one indication of the current leadership crisis Europe is experiencing. If not pushed to it by the West, Turkey’s moving away from the West is a negligible prospect. The reasons for this are the topic of another column.

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