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22:41, 21 June 2018 Thursday
Update: 11:30, 31 December 2011 Saturday

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Turkey's Middle East agenda in the yaer 2011
Turkey's Middle East agenda in the yaer 2011

The year has begun with the Arab Spring. "In Tunisia the spark was provided by the improbable 26-year-old Mohamed Bouazizi, a market trader from the small town of Sidi Bouzid with no interest in politics or activism.

By İsmail Duman, World Bulletin

"Personally, I must say the year 2011, rife with major disturbances and big upheavals, is giving me an odd sense of half-fulfillment." says Bulent Kenes, from Today's Zaman Newspaper. "Although we are at the end of it, it seems too early to me to close the balance sheet for this year."

Turkey's foreign policy agenda was very busy in the year 2011. Actually, this intensity was not proper just to Turkey. The determinant factor for the world political scene was uprisings in the Middle East. Reading Turkey's foreign affairs agenda in this year independently of the Arab Spring will fail to understand Turkey's sudden 180 Degree change in its relations with the United States. Or if we want to explain how Turkey's Syrian policy evolved over the summer, we cannot find the true answers without looking at expectations from Turkey after the Arab Spring. So, this year was out of ordinary and in my opinion, the history will write this year as one of the milestones of 21st century.

In this collected work, we will try to summarize Turkey's Middle East agenda in 2011 very briefly. Although it is not possible to touch upon all the topics, we will strive to make a point of the main agenda of the Turkish foreign policy.

The Arab Spring and the Turkish role

The year has begun with the Arab Spring. "In Tunisia the spark was provided by the improbable 26-year-old Mohamed Bouazizi, a market trader from the small town of Sidi Bouzid with no interest in politics or activism. When, on December 17th, 2010 corrupt officials seized his stock and weighing scales, pushing him too far, Bouazizi doused himself in lighter fuel and set himself, and the Middle East, alight."

After that, Egypt, Libya, Yemen, Bahrain, and Syria followed Tunisia. Although all of these uprisings have different backgrounds, the history wrote the fall of dictators in the Middle East. Without looking whether the spark was temporary or permanent, all the world, including the world's super powers like U.S. and Britain, greeted these uprisings. Even, "Time magazine chose 'the protester' as its 'person of the year', reflecting the organic link that connected Cairo to the region's conflagration, to the indignados of Spain and Greece, the "Occupy" activists of Wall Street and countless cities, and the mass protests in Moscow: Tahrir Square tremors rippling around the world."

In the other part of the picture, we came across "the Turkish model". In the beginning of this year, during his visit to Turkey, U.S. President Obama emphasized that Turkey as a "model partnership" between the West and the Muslim world. As a comment on this sentence, we said that 'Turkey' name is not a coincidence. Turkey's AKP model is perfectly suited for America's international interest in the Muslim world because U.S. is very worried about Iranization of Middle East and they prefer to secular Turkey as a land of new caliph.

At the end of the year, we see that we were/are not wrong in this comment. Today, the most important debate on Turkish role model in the region is focusing on the evolution of Muslims and their abandonment of their political Islamic identities in favor of their cultural Islamic identities.

According to Robert Fisk of The Independent, Turkey, with the AK Party government at the helm, presents the ultimate success model where Islam and democracy coexist. Similarly, Joshua Walker of Brandeis University thinks that its unprecedented economic success and hyperactive diplomatic dynamism has brought Turkey back to the region, from which it has long remained detached, as "kingmaker."

On the other hand, as a NATO member, Turkey was/is very suitable partner for America. In other words, the Turkish model will not be an alternative to American hegemony; just will be complementary part of American projects in the Middle East. Here, quoting of Egemen Bagis's words will be helpful for us in order to understand stance of Turkey's AKP government:

"Not only the 20 million in Europe, but also the 1.5 billion Muslims in the world are closely following this [Turkey's EU membership] process, and the Islamic world is looking for a role model. Not only those in Europe, but Muslim youth worldwide are looking for a role model. There are those who try to be a role model by resorting to terror, violence and discrimination. On the other side, there are those who exert efforts for glorifying democracy, human rights and freedom although they suffered wrongly from their democratic efforts -- like [Prime Minister Recep Tayyip] Erdoğan and [President Abdullah] Gül. In my opinion, the EU should make its choice concerning which role model it will turn its spotlight on."

As a parallel to the Turkish stance which is agreeable with U.S., we, in this year, have come across the first political maneuver in Libyan case...

The Libyan Case

As is known, when an operation to Libya has become a current issue, Turkey, firstly, opposed to any operation against Libya and Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan asked, "What business does NATO have in Libya?"

On the other hand, Turkey criticized the Western position on Libya at governmental level: "The Middle East and Africa have been viewed by the West merely as sources of oil and used as pawns in oil wars for decades."

But, Turkey's stance on Libya has changed suddenly. As Eric Walberg says, "On Thursday, 24 March, Turkish Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu met with NATO's top military commander US Admiral James Stavridis in Ankara and finally acceded to US pressure to support the NATO no-fly-zone on the condition that 'the rules of engagement in Libya must be restricted to protecting civilians, enforcing the arms embargo and no-fly zone, and the provision of humanitarian aid,' excluding any further air strikes against Gaddafi's ground forces."

After this meeting, in a written statement, it is said that "Turkey would make the necessary and appropriate national contribution to implementing a U.N. no-fly zone over Libya and measures to protect civilians."

After this 180 degree change, we asked, in our analysis on Libya, that what were the roots of Turkey's first attitude on Libya and what are the reasons that Turkey backs joining NATO operation in Libya? Is it the fight between "reel politics" and "moral politics" or is there any different background in this political inversion of Turkey?

While, we were thinking about these zigzags in Turkey's position on Libya, the AKP Government accepted to deploy NATO's missile shield system in the middle of Turkey.

Missile Shield System

When Turkish Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu spoke to a small group of journalists en route from Xi'an to Shanghai as part of his week-long China trip, he tried to justify the decision of deployment of missile shield system, most probably against Iran, in Turkey:

"First of all, Turkey is not a country that has to be convinced by NATO. Turkey is not alone; Turkey is at the center of NATO.

Secondly, NATO should take into account the principle of "indivisible security," meaning that the alliance should preserve each and every member state's security.

Thirdly, Turkey does perceive any threat in its neighborhood and does not plan to be a frontier country as it was during the Cold War era.

Turkey is not in a position to be a frontier country. NATO, while doing threat planning on this issue, should cover all member states and should remain outside any formula that would geographically set one country against another."

And during those days, it was claimed that "with the coming to power of the Justice and Progress Party in Turkey, the determinants of Turkey's relationship with NATO began to take a new form, particularly in light of Turkey's attempts to define its role within the framework of a 'multidimensional' policy in the different geopolitical circles, particularly the Middle Eastern arena which has seen a great deal of activity in the first decade of the 21st century."

After these comments, we said in our analyses: We should not forget that NATO, under the leadership of US, will not accept all the conditions of Turkey. In contrast to the sentences of Tarık Oguz, we do not believe that "Turkey will play a key role in the planning and command of the operations."

It is impossible because while US is losing its superpower status, with these attempts it recreates its power. In this process, if U.S. sees any attempt as a necessary step, it will not ask or look at Turkey's decisions or position. So, Turkey should be very careful in order not to be pawn for imperialism. Up to the present, there is no any fair action in the history of NATO.

Unfortunately, again, at the end of the year, we see that we were/are not wrong in this comment. Today, this missile shield system became a bribe for Turkish-American relations. And, Iran and Turkey face off against because of NATO's this shield system. It means that Turkey began to prioritize its relations with U.S. to its relations with neighboring countries.

The Syrian Case and Relations with Iran

As you can remember, Turkey's stance on Syria was very different in the first half of the year. But, after the general elections in Turkey and Prime Minister Erdogan's meeting with Barack Obama in those days, everything has changed. In parallel to this sudden change, old-friend Turkey has become among the states which raise their loud voices against the Syrian Assad regime.

As a comment on this change, we said that "while there were good connections and relations between Syria and Turkey only a year ago, today we began to talk different scenarios about the NATO intervention led by Turkey against Syria.

Although the Turkish position is being portrayed as a defender of oppressed Syrian people in the world media, there are some questions which cannot be answered independently of war scenarios led by the U.S. against Iran."

"Washington and the E.U. have pushed Turkey to be more active in the Arab World. This has blossomed through Ankara's neo-Ottomanism policy. This is why Turkey has been posturing itself as a champion of Palestine and launched an Arabic-language channel like Iran and Russia." said Mahdi Darius Nazemroaya about this issue. "Ankara, however, has been playing an ominous role. Turkey is a partner in the NATO war on Libya. The position of the Turkish government has become clear with its betrayal of Tripoli. Ankara has also been working with Qatar to corner the Syrian regime. The Turkish government has been pressuring Damascus to change its policies to please Washington and appears to possibly even have a role in the protests inside Syria with the Al-Sauds, the Hariri minority camp in Lebanon, and Qatar. Turkey is even hosting opposition meetings and providing them support."

We, gradually, have seen the changing position of Turkey on Syria. Today, many Syrian opponents are organized in Turkey. Even, Syrian Deputy Foreign Minister Faisal al-Mikdad claimed that Ankara helped establish the opposition Syrian National Council (SNC) and Free Syrian Army (FSA). SNC recognition accompanied Syria's suspension.

Again, Mahdi Darius Nazemroaya criticized Turkey's new role in the region and warned about the nature of these sudden changes in Turkish foreign policy:

"Turkey is viewed in Washington and Brussels as the key to bringing the Iranians and the Arabs into line. The Turkish government has been parading itself as a member of the Resistance Bloc with the endorsement of Iran and Syria. U.S strategists project that it will be Turkey which domesticates Iran and Syria for Washington. Turkey also serves as a means of integrating the Arab and Iranian economies with the economy of the European Union. In this regard Ankara has been pushing for a free-trade zone in Southwest Asia and getting the Iranians and Syrians to open up their economies to it.

In reality, the Turkish government has not only been deepening its economic ties with Tehran and Damascus, but has also been working to eclipse Iranian influence. Ankara has tried to wedge itself between Iran and Syria and to challenge Iranian influence in Iraq, Lebanon, the Caucasus, and Central Asia. Turkey also tried to establish a triple entente between itself, Syria, and Qatar to push Syria away from Tehran. This is why Turkey has been very active vocally against Israel, but in reality has maintained its alliance and military deals with Tel Aviv."

Today, we know that Iran feels discomfort Turkey's hurtful policies on the Middle East. Whilst Iran was satisfied from Turkey, what has changed? According to the Economist, "Turkey's mollycoddling of the mullahs has angered America, most recently when Mr. Erdogan's government voted against imposing further sanctions on Iran at the United Nations last year. Turkey has since sought to make amends. It has agreed to NATO plans for a nuclear-defense missile shield that is clearly aimed at Iran. And after some dithering, it is co-operating with the alliance's military operations in Libya."

This is a very bad scenario. If Turkey shapes its foreign policy in accordance with the demands of U.S., this means that Turkey abandoned zero-problem policy and backed/back to powerful horse. When we evaluate all the developments of this year from the same window, it does not seem a conspiracy theory.

Actually, complaints of Iranian authorities explain the real picture for Turkey's preferences. As Assoc. Prof. Mehmet Sahin said, "They(Iranian authorities) claim that Turkey follows its foreign policy 'in accordance with the directives of the U.S., as well as in order to protect the interests of the U.S. and to protect Israel.' They suggest that the main objective of the Missile Shield Project is to protect Israel. At the same time, the Iranian authorities, who made statements, underline that Turkey will face new problems in the region, particularly in terms of the commercial affairs with Iran, if she maintains her current foreign policy."

We will see the rest of the picture for Syrian case in the year 2012. We hope that Turkey will approach to regional problems more plausible, not as a partisan for U.S.

The Tunisian and Egyptian elections

On the other hand, as expected, "in the October 24 elections, a moderate Islamist En-Nahda Party won 90 seats in Tunisian elections, making it the largest bloc in the 217-member assembly." Party is now forming a new government. Although Egyptian elections are not finished yet, it seems that Islamic parties will won the elections by landslide.

Results of these elections and reactions of Islamic parties in these countries are very important in order to find a clue about the effect of the Arab Spring and the future of American hegemony in the region.

We mention these elections here because Turkey exports its model for Tunisia and Egypt firstly. If it achieves this unofficial aim, Turkey will be more powerful in the region. On the other hand, U.S. will be sure of blocking Iranian influence.

"Turkey has been experiencing a decisive transition that the North Africa and Middle East only recently has begun to feel. Turkey's September 12, 2010 referendum on partial constitutional amendments has become a milestone for the structural changes that was triggered by the 2007 national elections. While Turkey was going through a genuine debate on the 'New Turkey' following the historic referendum, which put an end to the tutelage system, it now has engaged in yet another transformative debate on the emergence of the New Middle East." said Taha Ozhan. "Turkey has been seen as a success story for those countries suffering from a lack of democratization, economic development and distribution of income, and despised and oppressed by Israel. These two slogans opened avenues of understanding to see and compare the Turkish experience with 'economic development, democratization and resisting external impositions' and 'questioning global and regional order': Turkey has become the largest economy of the region although it does not enjoy any oil revenue, it has taken structural steps towards democratization, it has clearly showed its reaction to Israel when necessary, and it has established relations with the West without letting others oppress its people. People who want to change towards a model based on Turkey enthusiastically welcomed Prime Minister Erdoğan, openly asking him to fill the political vacuum after the Arab revolutions."

In addition to Taha Ozhan's evaluations, Aaron Stein's comments on transformation of political Islamist into moderate Muslims through Turkish model were very interesting and thoughtful:

"With a booming economy and the military's influence on the decline, advocates see Turkey as one of the few Middle Eastern countries that has figured out how to balance its Muslim identity with 'Westernisms' like democracy and capitalism.

Other say that Turkey has shown the uncanny ability to have strong ties with the West while still remaining legitimate in the eyes of many in the Arab world. Based on these vague platitudes, many have championed Turkey as a democratic leader for the region's transitioning states and as an admirable model capable of moderating the perceived threat of the Islamist political movement."

Moreover, when we look at the first sentences of Tunisian Islamic Nahda Party leaders, we can say that Turkey is successful in exporting its model to region.

Esam Al-Amin's "Nahda Party" description was very familiar for Turkish readers:

"Ennahdha Party was the successor to the Tunisian Islamic Trend Movement that was once affiliated with the Muslim Brotherhood in the 1960s and has been led by Ghannouchi, 70, since the mid 1970s. In 1989 it changed its name to Ennahdha or Renaissance Party and declared its commitment to democracy and pluralism. The movement considers itself a moderate Islamic party concerned with the preservation of Tunisia's identity as an Arab and Islamic nation. For much of the past decade it has called for a political model similar to the Justice and Development Party (AKP) of Prime Minister Recep Tayeb Erdogan in Turkey. More recently, it has advocated the accommodation of liberal and secular-humanist values with Islamic principles, especially in social and economic spheres. It also favors a parliamentary system of government."

From another point of view, Western commentators examine the modernity of Nahda Party through their observation and they approve Nahda's "suitability" for Western political system. Patrick Seale's comment is very thoughtful in connection with this argument: "The triumph at last Sunday's elections of Tunisia's leading Islamic party Ennahda(Renaissance) is the latest example of the revival of political Islam in the Arab world. But it is also cause for reassurance. This moderate Islamic party should not be confused with hard-line Salafis, who demand a return to the uncompromising values of early Islam."

It seems that although Tunisian secularist are worried about the future of Tunisia, after Nahda Party reassured that Tunisia will not be a second Iran, neither U.S. nor Western countries are uncomfortable Nahda Party like secularists. In other words, Western authorities are not interested in the "cultural Islam" identity of Tunisia; but interested in "political Islam" identity of it.

It will be possible to say the same thing for the Egyptian Islamic parties. They began to give some messages for their liberal identities rather than their religious identities. In contrast to Tunisia, Egypt's religion language will be more intensive because of differences between the Tunisian and Egyptian societies. But, this language will be showed tolerance as long as Egyptian affairs and American affairs do not conflict.

In this way, the Turkish model will be more and more important in the year 2012.

Turkish-American relations: Golden age again?

When we talk about Turkey's Middle East agenda, it is required to mention Turkish-American relations because in no case, they are independent of each other for Turkey.

"Gone are the angry private exchanges of the last year between President Barack Obama and Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, after Turkey's stunning 'no' vote on UN Security Council sanctions against Iran. Concern about Turkey potentially switching axis and moving away from the West -- or at least open talk of this concern -- has considerably diminished in Washington. Suddenly we find ourselves in what I call the Turkish-American Spring. But is this real? I mean, really real?" says Ali H. Aslan, from Today's Zaman Newspaper. "We owe today's positive atmosphere in US-Turkish relations to many factors, first and foremost, an increasingly humbled US, due to serious economic and foreign policy problems. No matter how irritating the Turks may sometimes be, Turkey has become an indispensable player in its strategically critical neighborhood, if not in the world, and the US has to live with that. Similarly, despite occasional American acts of arrogance, Ankara's need to maintain the influential US as a regional and global partner is also more than evident."

In addition to this, "So, what happened to effect a 180 degree change in relations in such a short time? There is still the same president in the White House. The ruling Justice and Development Party (AK Party) is still at the wheel in Turkey. How can we now refer to the golden age of relations when a year ago everyone in Washington was questioning whether Turkey had been lost or why it had shifted its political axis? If everything changed so swiftly, what is to guarantee it all won't be reversed next year? Suppose Congress announces that Turkey committed genocide against Armenians in the past. Will we return to the dark ages once again? How can relations change so quickly? Isn't there any way to prevent these sudden ebbs and flows?" asks Abdulhamit Bilici, from Today's Zaman. "In my opinion, there are two reasons for the poor state Turkish-US relations were in a year ago. The first was Turkey's saying "no" to the UN Security Council's resolution on sanctions against Iran. The other was the impact of the Mavi Marmara crisis. Given such facts as Turkey's political stability, its economic successes despite economic collapse in the West and the harmony between Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan and US President Barack Obama were in place last year as well, there remain two developments that could change relations in the course of a year. First, Turkey agreed to host a NATO radar system. Second, the Arab Spring upgraded Turkey's position in the eyes of the US, making it a very valuable player, and both countries are pursuing similar policies in this regard."

As it is seen, in terms of foreign affairs, the year 2011 was very busy for Turkey. In contrast to past years, there was an interesting axis shift in favor of America in this year. Although in last years, many commentators criticize Turkey's position and role in the Middle East, the hero of this year in the region was Turkey in terms of Western resources. For example, many western newspapers and magazines praised Turkey's position and they evaluated that Turkey has come back to its own position which is for the benefit of Western interests.

As Ali H. Aslan says, Turkey's recent moves to distance itself from Iran (by agreeing to host NATO's missile defense radar) and Syria (by writing off the Assad regime) have appealed to the US government the most.

We do not know how Turkey will be like in the year 2012. But it seems that Turkey's regional policies will satisfy America. We will wait and see.

Last sentences are belonging to Bulent Kenes:

"Already, we can say that 2012 will be a very arduous year, and we will expect that the tasks that started in 2011 and are largely left to the coming year for the country, the region and the world will be completed to a great extent. As we say farewell to the half-finished 2011, we should be properly prepared for 2012, which will certainly be a hard stretch of time for many."

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