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Mediterranean Quarterly 12.1 (2001) 22-38

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Grand Geopolitics for a New Turkey

Cengiz Candar and Graham E. Fuller

Turkey is at the center of American geopolitical calculations because of its location at the crossroads of the Balkans, eastern Mediterranean, Caucasus, Central Asia, and Middle East, with its Arab-Israeli problems. It plays an important role in each of these regions, yet the country itself is enmeshed in a major internal debate and even some confusion about its identity and place in the world--with direct and explicit implications for its foreign policy. We offer here our concept of the true face of Turkey and the implications of this identity for the country's future choices in a strategic region that faces certain turmoil. Turkey will in the end act on its own interests, and not on Washington's perception of Turkish interests, but we believe that only a clear-sighted American vision of what Turkey's real options are will enable Washington to develop sensible policies toward Turkey and the region.

The "old Turkey" of seventy years duration--from the founding of the state by the remarkable Mustafa Kemal Ataturk to the fall of the Soviet Union--has given way to a new Turkey at the start of the twenty-first century. The narrow geopolitical perspectives of a Soviet-dominated region have been replaced by a brand new geopolitical reality that leaves Turkey as the emerging great power in the region. At the same time, Turkey's domestic life has undergone dramatic evolution as a modern state emerges. Now with a new president, Turkey has opportunities for the internal reform and maturation [End Page 22] required of a modern state. If Turkey can reorder its foreign policy accordingly, it can bring about a major shift across regional geopolitics. If the United States and Europe hope to work with Turkey in serious partnership, they must understand the full geopolitical complexity of Turkey that transcends a strictly Western orientation.

One of the key principles of Ataturk's world view was summed up in his expression "peace at home and peace abroad" (yurtta sulh jihanda sulh), which signaled a shift away from the old Ottoman state policies. But this important phrase has gradually lost a great deal of its meaning as Turkey over the past few decades has experienced peace neither at home nor abroad. Deadly internal conflict between groups of leftists and rightists created a period of anarchy in the 1970s; the 1980s were marked by the emergence of an equally deadly civil conflict between a Kurdish insurgency led by the Kurdish Workers Party (PKK), which resorted to violence and periodic terrorist acts, and Turkish security forces that have damaged Turkish civil liberties and national cohesion. Finally, the past decade was marked by increasing religious tensions as the emergence of Islam-oriented groups, in the eyes of Turkey's secularists, threatened the Ataturkist project of a secular nation state. Abroad, Turkey has had poor relations with almost all its immediate neighbors: Greece, Russia, Armenia, Iran, Iraq, and Syria.

Ataturk's extremely sensible policies in the 1920s warned sharply against any external adventurism that might invoke an interest in Turks in the Caucasus, Central Asia, or China and provoke the armed might of the Soviet Union against Turkey. Today, after the demise of the Soviet Union, Ataturk's cautions about interest in external Turkish peoples, sensible in its day, require reinterpretation. And Turkey's growing status requires it to take a far more activist policy in the troubled areas of the Caucasus, Central Asia, and the Middle East.

In this article we propose to resurrect Ataturk's concept of peace at home and peace abroad and reinterpret it according to contemporary conditions. We propose a new foreign policy that, coupled with new domestic policies, will produce a Turkey at peace at home and actively and constructively involved with nearly all its neighbors. We believe Turkey in the new millennium should move away from a defensive and reactive foreign policy based on security fears, one that leaves it a prisoner of events, to...


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