March 31 2010

The shift in Turkey's foreign policy orientation towards the Middle
East has raised fears that the country could turn away from the West.

In his essay, Huseyin Bagci, professor of international politics at
the Technical University of Ankara, explains that despite appearances,
the USA and the EU remain Turkey's most important partners

Even under Tayyip Erdogan, Turkey's ultimate goal is to accede to
the European Union. Huseyin Bagci is of the opinion that the reforms
introduced to date have changed Turkey and that, for this reason,
the EU remains an important modernization factor for Turkey

| Turkey's foreign policy has undergone so many "initiatives and
openings" in recent times that even the Turks themselves have
difficulty understanding where their country's foreign policy is
actually heading. The steps taken by Prime Minister Erdogan are
surprising many observers. Only one thing is certain: Turkey has much
more self-confidence than ever before and already sees itself as a
regional and global player.

Foreign Minister Ahmed Davutoglu's new foreign policy formula, which
could be summed up as "no problems with the neighbours", is starting
to bear fruit; at the same time, it is also raising fears that Turkey
could turn away from the West. Turkey is already a "political Mecca"
for the Islamic world and, at the same time, an indispensable partner
for the West.

Rooted as it is in the West in political, economic, technological and
cultural terms, Turkey has enjoyed more room to assert its influence
abroad since the end of the Cold War. No Turkish prime minister
before him has enjoyed such conducive foreign policy conditions as
Tayyip Erdogan.

Ultimate goal: accession

In terms of the EU's geostrategic interests, Turkey remains
indispensable, even though both France and Germany are unwilling to
acknowledge this fact. The Turkish policy of both these countries is
neither creative nor result-oriented. Nevertheless, Turkey will not
walk away from the accession negotiation table.

Ankara should continue to push on with its reform process in order to
meet European standards. On the other hand, the EU must also fulfil
its obligations to Turkey. The relations between the European Union
and Ankara must be improved both in terms of their quality and their

Accession to the EU remains the unswerving ultimate goal of Turkish
politics. From the Turkish point of view, it is no longer a question -
and has not been for a long time - of whether the country will become
a member of the EU; for Turkey, membership is practically a matter
of course.

The reforms introduced over the past 20 years have changed Turkey,
and the EU remains a very important modernization factor. At the same
time, the USA will remain Turkey's most important partner in foreign
and security policy. Ankara's new Kurdish policy and its opening up
towards Armenia can only succeed if Washington continues to operate
as a peacekeeper.

Other countries are also showing interest in Turkey. Ankara is also
an important partner for Russia in the field of energy and in terms
of its regional policy towards the Black Sea and the Caucasus. Russia
is Turkey's most important trade partner; after Germany it is also
the second-biggest buyer of Russian natural gas.

| Bild:

By opening up to Syria, Iran and Iraq, Turkey has established itself
as a new regional player in the Middle East | Moscow support's
Turkey's decision to open up to Armenia. When the foreign ministers
of Armenia and Turkey signed a rapprochement agreement last October,
the Russian foreign minister, Sergey Lavrov, was present. Public
opinion about Russia in Turkey has never been as positive as it is
at present. Nevertheless, Moscow is not a political alternative;
it is primarily an economic partner.

Turkey's decision to improve relations with Syria, Iran, Iraq and
the entire Islamic world puts the country at the political centre of
the Middle East. Prime Minister Erdogan is the most popular political
figure among the Arab masses, but not necessarily among Arab regimes.

Tayyip Erdogan also acts as Israel's most high-profile critic. The
Turkish-Israeli crisis was intentionally started by Erdogan, and he
is enjoying it. Moreover, Ankara does not intend to end its close
relationship with Iran just because the West does not approve of it.

Erdogan is pragmatic, and Iran is a good economic partner. At the same
time, Turkey would like to play the role of honest broker between
Iran and the USA. This is why Iran is using Turkey to break out of
its own political isolation. For Iran, Turkey is a springboard. Even
in Turkey, this has generated much severe criticism.

Regional power in the Middle East

Iraq and the Kurds in northern Iraq constitute a common problem for
the USA (as the protector of Baghdad) and Turkey. Iraq's Kurds are
benefitting from the new Turkish policy to avoid, where possible,
all problems with neighbouring countries.

| Bild:

A new Kurdish policy: Ahmet Davutoglu became the first Turkish foreign
minister to visit the autonomous Kurdish region in northern Iraq when
he travelled there in October 2009 and met the Kurdish leader Massoud
Barzani | The visit of Turkish foreign minister, Ahmed Davutoglu, to
the Kurds in northern Iraq was an expression of this new policy. In
the long term, Turkey is Iraq's best partner in the region. Turkey's
recently concluded agreements with Syria, Iraq and Iran are mostly
economic in orientation and are a demonstration of Turkey's "soft

The reorientation of its Kurdish policy has both domestic and foreign
policy consequences for Turkey. It could mean the end of the PKK as
a terrorist organization; in any case, the Kurds are becoming more

Nevertheless, an independent Kurdish state is unlikely. That being
said, Turkey's neighbours realise that the time for confrontation
has passed and the time for co-operation has arrived. In this regard,
Turkey can indeed be considered the peacemaker of the region.

In doing so, Ankara's political pragmatism makes use of Islam and
the common cultural history of the Ottoman Empire. The debate about
"Neo-Ottomanism" also points in this direction. The intellectuals
and politicians of the Ottoman Empire believed in the mission of
modernizing both the Islamic world and the Middle East. This is the
political heritage of the current government in Ankara.

In this regard, Turkey will not be lost to the West. On the contrary,
Turkey is promoting common values in the Middle East. Turkey considers
itself to be the ambassador of democracy in the region and remains
firmly rooted in the West, even under Tayyip Erdogan.

Huseyin Bagci

© Neue Zurcher Zeitung / Qantara.de 2010

Translated from the German by Aingeal Flanagan
http://www.qantara.de/webcom/show_article .php/_c-476/_nr-1311/i.html