From Conceptualization to Implementation and Reevaluation: Turkey’s “Strategic Depth” in the MENA region (by Yeghig Tashjian)

12 Jun

From Conceptualization to Implementation and Reevaluation: Turkey’s “Strategic Depth” in the MENA region

Introduction

Is Turkey’s “Strategic Depth” still relevant in the MENA (Middle East and North Africa) region? It has been a debatable issue whether Turkish current foreign policy is still relevant or not, and in order to realize how Turkey will behave in the region one should analyze its foreign policy. The “Strategic Depth” doctrine is mainly based upon Turkish current foreign minister Ahmed Davutoglu’s geo-political and historical analysis of Turkey’s regional position[1]. The “Strategic Depth” can be measured by three concepts; zero-problem policy, pro-active diplomacy and multidimensional policy[2]. Zero-problem policy offers a peaceful territorial security by means of the peaceful settlementsof disputes (use of soft power) and putting aside threat perceptions and use of violence[3]. Pro-active diplomacy refers to a “sustained pro-activism in the field of diplomacy” based on the role of mediation between the conflicting parties[4]. Finally multidimensional policy refers to quitting the security and identity based “mono-dimensional foreign policy”, therefore foreign policy dealing should diversify from cultural and sectarian considerations[5]. Hence based on these three concepts we will analyze whether this foreign policy is still relevant in the region or not.

In order to understand Turkey’s foreign policy I will divide the paper into three parts; conceptualization, implementation and reevaluation. In the conceptualization section I will analyze the different concepts and theories that are provided by Davutoglu such as state’s power, evaluation of pre-AKP (AKP refers to the Justice and Development party, the ruling party in Turkey) foreign policy (Kemalist and military periods; 1923-2001), and finally historical depth (“neo”-Ottomanism) and geopolitics. In the implementation section I will analyze how Turkey’s foreign policy was influenced by the domestic-regional factor; the Kurdish problem (this factor was behind the development of Turkey’s relations with Syria and Iran). Another important factor is the economy and trade; the main focus of the AKP’s increased engagement with the Middle East was on improving economic relations. In this part I will also analyze and describe briefly the process of implementation of Turkey’s foreign policy based on “zero-problem” concept with Syria and Iran, the “pro-active” diplomacy that Turkey engaged between Syria and Israel, between Hamas and Fatah and between Iran and the West, then the “multidimensional” policy with Iraq (Including Iraqi Kurdistan’s regional government-KRG) and to some extent with Lebanon. The third part will be a reevaluation of Turkey’s foreign policy, where I will examine Turkey’s relations with Iran, Syria and Sudan and argue that Turkey didn’t promote human rights and democracy in these countries, instead it strengthened its relations with the regimes and the ruling elites based on economic interests and ignored human rights violations within these countries. I will also identify the challenges of the “Arab Uprisings” by analyzing Turkey’s initial and current position regarding the uprisings that took and are taking place in Egypt, Libya, and Bahrain and most importantly in Syria. Then I will reveal the struggle between Iran and Turkey on Syria.

Finally in my conclusion I will answer the above raised question based on the arguments that I will raise when I reevaluate the implementation phase and the Turkish foreign policy during the Arab Uprising and it’s contradiction with Davutoglu’s concepts.

Literature review

I will try to provide what different authors said about Turkish foreign policy, regarding the conception, implementation and reevaluation.

In conceptualization I will introduce three concepts that identify Davutoglu’s theories and ideas; state’s power parameters, a critique of pre-AKP foreign policy, and finally historical depth and geopolitics.  Defining “the power” as the central input of international politics, Davutoglu determines the parameters of power; stable and potential[6]. Stable parameters are unchangeable factors such as; history, geography, population and culture. States are not able to alter these factors with their own will in the short and the medium term. But if states wisely re-asses the weight of each factor, depending on changes in international and regional balance, a sufficient ground may be formed to produce a dynamic foreign policy. While potential parameters are changeable variables such as; economic, technological and military capacities of a country; therefore if these variables are efficiently used, country’s influence in balance of power in the region increases[7].Gulbahar Aktas in her research paper, “Turkish Foreign Policy: New Concepts and Reflections”, argues that stable and potential power parameters are the main elements of a country’s foreign policy. Thinking of Turkey’s status within this context, Davutoglu has a critical position and evaluates the pre-AKP isolationist foreign policy. He claims that Turkey (pre-AKP period) lacked a strategic thinking in its foreign policy, due to domestic political crisis, therefore he argues that his country’s problems with strategic thinking have institutional, historical and identity based background[8]. First of all institutionally, because country’s foreign policy was shaped by the military and bureaucracy and was influenced by foreign powers due to the Cold war international and regional order. Davutoglu claims that in order to overcome this problem, Turkey must improve its institutional understructure of strategic thinking; independent research centers and universities are the main factors[9]. He also adds that political will is active factor of a country’s foreign policy making. Hence Davutoglu claims that usually governments in Turkey lacked political will, due to short-termed coalition governments and constant interference by the military, which blockaded to build a long-termed strategic planning.  Historical background is the second important factor behind Turkey’s insufficiency in strategic thinking. Davutoglu believes that Turkey was established on historical and geo-political ground of Ottoman state. This is why he criticizes Kemalist isolationist foreign policy, he calls traditional Kemalist foreign policy making as being “bereft of a historical dimension, lacking depth with respect to time and space, and having an inadequate approach to culture”[10]. Question of identity is a third factor. Davutoglu argues that by following isolationist foreign policy, Turkey did not only alienate itself from surrounding regions but also its own history[11]. Thus for decades the country followed a mono-dimensional security oriented foreign policy. Therefore Turkey should open up to its surrounding and engage in dynamic foreign policy. The final concept is historical depth and geopolitics. According to Davutoglu Turkey’s historical asset is one of the basic stable power parameters. He defines Turkey’s historical asset with the concept of historical depth, and claims that historically, Turkey has a unique position, and it is an outcome of a long-dated Ottoman history[12]. Therefore it’s much easier for Turkey to resolve regional conflicts due to its historical background, on the other hand this factor is argued by some scholars as “neo-Ottomanism”. While geopolitics is the expression of relation between the political factors and the physical geography, geography is a stable power parameter, and when it’s unified with political (which is potential parameter), geopolitics comes to being[13]. Geopolitically Turkey controls the transition areas of land and sea power centers, which did witness historical struggles for dominance for centuries. Therefore Turkey’s geopolitics should be regarded as a means to make new openings in the MENA region[14].

Turkey's Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu

Turkey’s Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu

The second part will be dedicated to the implementation process.  I will talk about the incentives of Turkish foreign policy such as economics and the Kurdish factor, then I will talk about the principles and measures of the “Strategic Depth”; zero-problem, proactive diplomacy and multidimensional policy, that were implemented with Turkey’s neighbors. Davutoglu in his book claimed that Turkish foreign policy is shaped by democratic values and human rights, but the economic ambitions of Turkey and its Kurdish problem raises questions about Davutoglu’s principles. According ZiyaOnis, foreign policy in Turkey is no longer the monopoly of politicians and diplomats; it has been increasingly driven from below by the key economic and civil society actors[15].After the financial crisis in EU, Turkey turned towards the East and engaged in trade and economic agreements with its historical rivals; Iran, Iraq, KRG (Kurdistan Regional Government) and Syria. According to Turkish ministry foreign affairs website in 2010, economic considerations fuelled a growing rapprochement with Iran, as bilateral trade grew fivefold under the AKP, the trade volume between Turkey and Iran reached to its peak 10.6 billion$[16]. Iran became Turkey’s second-largest supplier of energy after Russia. Also cross-border trade with Syria and northern Iraq grew rapidly and gave a major boost to the local economy in southeast Turkey, which has long been the most under-developed region of the country.The legal framework of economic relations between Turkey and Syria was strengthened with the free trade agreement, mutual abolishment of the visas and completion of several bilateral agreements. It was expected that volume of trade between the two countries, in a short time, would reach to 5 billion dollars as a result of the free trade agreement[17]. In his article Fryad Mohammed claims that more than 70% of the overall Iraqi-Turkish trade exchange of about USD$12 billion is actually between Turkey and Iraqi Kurdistan Region[18]. But economics was not the only factor; security was another incentive too, which was the Kurdish problem. Turkey, by following the principle of “my enemy’s enemy is my friend”, strengthened its relations with Iran and Syria in order to prevent any Kurdish separatist movement in the region which may threaten Turkey’s territorial integrity. Stephen Larrabee claims that relations have significantly improved between Turkey, Iran and Syria because of the three governments’ shared interests in containing Kurdish nationalism and preventing the emergence of an independent Kurdish state on their borders[19].

Zero-problem relations were “successfully” implemented with Iran and Syria. When Erdogan assumed power in 2002, Ankara initiated a policy of rapprochement with Tehran. With the invasion of Iraq in 2003, and out of a sense of being besieged by the US military in Afghanistan and Iraq, Tehran realized that it must gain the trust of Turkey to break the isolation imposed on it. Thus, the two countries became, in one form or another, friends.Coming to Syria, Henry Barkey argues that Erdogan established close even personal relations with Bashar Assad. Moreover, under the rubric of “two people, one state”, Turkish and Syrian cabinets held joint meetings as they labored to integrate their respective economies[20]. Therefore the Syrian rapprochement represented the best-case model for this policy. Turkey also engaged in pro-active diplomacy, and provided a mediating role between Syria and Israel (which was halted due to Israeli attack on Gaza in 2009), between Fatah and Hamas, and most importantly regarding the Iranian nuclear dispute, Turkey started to play a facilitator role between Iran and the group known as 5+1-the permanent members of UN Security Council plus Germany[21]. Sometimes Turkey’s defense for Iran, Syria and Hamas in international arena was criticized by the Western media and perceived as a “shift in axis”. Finally regarding with its multi-dimensional policy, Turkey build relations with different political and sectarian groups in Iraq and Lebanon. During Maliki’s election, Turkey trained many Iraqi diplomats and NGOs, and increased its trade and economic investment in Iraqi Kurdistan[22]. While in Lebanon, Turkey not only gained the support of the Sunnis, but also the Shi’as and other groups, especially after the Gaza war and Mavy Marmara crisis. For a moment Erdogan became the hero of most Arabs, regarding their sect and political opinion. But all these policies were challenged and faced obstacles after the Arab Uprisings, as the status quo in the region changed.

It’s crucial for those who want to reevaluate Turkish foreign policy to study Turkey’s position regarding the Arab Uprising. Turkish foreign policy before the Arab Uprising did not promote any democracy or human rights in the region; instead it developed relations with regimes and the ruling elite often in the expense of the people. Turkey warmly welcomed the wanted war criminal, President of Sudan Omar Al-Bashir. While in 2009, Erdogan publicly congratulated President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad for his re-election and made no comment when the Iranian regime suppressed the peaceful demonstrations. As the Arab Uprising broke up Turkish responses to Tunisian and Egyptian developments were in harmony with the West. Turkey had no major interests in Tunisia, while with Egypt’s Mubarak regime, a major policy differences existed between them regarding how to address the Palestinian problem and how to deal with Hamas. Turkey’s position regarding Qaddafi and the Libyan was complex, where Turkish companies had billions of dollars in construction contracts and some 25,000 workers, Turkey initially supported the regime, hence expressions of anti-Turkish sentiment raised in Eastern Libya[23]. Libyan rebels have since accused Ankara, a NATO member, of supporting Muammar Gaddafi’s regime. As Turkey felt that it was going to be isolated, it began supporting the rebels and Erdogan demanded Qaddafi’s resignation. While in Bahrain, ironically Turkey supported the ruling family against the peaceful protestors which were cracked down by the GCC and Bahraini forces.On the other hand Syria became the biggest challenge of Turkish “Strategic Depth”.  Turkey views the situation in Syria as almost “a domestic affair” because of the 800-kilometer border between the two countries; Turkey also is concerned of the Kurdish nationalism in North Syria and the fear of sectarian crisis to enter Turkey. According to a report by the French daily Le Figaro, Bashar al-Assad is apparently aiming to destabilize Turkey, which has been supporting the Syrian National Council,the Syrian branch of Muslim Brotherhood and the “Free Syrian Army”, by seeking to grant greater autonomy to Kurdish population which lives in North-eastern Syria[24]. On the other hand the anti-Turkish sentiments within some Syrian regime supporters have reached its peak, especially after some reports about Turkish invasion on Syria. If Turkey loses in Syria, its foreign policy will be in huge crisis, while any intervention in Syria by Turkey will trigger a counter reaction by Iran. The struggle between Iran and Turkey over Syria and the region reached to its climax. Lately Iran declared that it will meet with the Western representatives to discuss its nuclear program, in Baghdad rather than Istanbul[25]. While a war of words started between Erdogan and Iraqi PM Nouri al-Maliki, a Shii leader supported by Iran, al-Maliki accused Turkey that it’s siding with his rivals in Iraq and interfering on their behalf while Turkey accused al-Maliki for driving the country into sectarian crisis[26]. On the other hand Idrees Mohammad in his article “Turkey and Iran Rivalry on Syria” claims that Iran publicly is supporting the Assad regime and both of them are threatening to use the PKK card against Turkey[27]. Recently Iranian military generals threatened to target the NATO military Radar base in Turkey, if Iran is attacked by any Western country or Israel. It is not clear where Turkish foreign policy is going but its facing huge challenges in the region.

In conclusion, it’s clear that Turkish “Strategic Depth” which can be measured based on the concepts of zero-problem, pro-active diplomacy and multidimensional policy, is facing a lot of challenges. Contrary to Davutoglu’s claims Turkey has not promoted democratic values, its foreign policy was based on interests; economic ambitions and a fear of Kurdish separatist movement in the region. As the Arab Uprisings took place and people went to the streets to demand freedom, human rights and democracy, Turkey faced a huge challenge, and realized that it developed these concepts and principles of the “Strategic Depth” with the authoritarian regimes of the region and not with the oppressed people. Therefore based on these developments I will try to provide an answer whether if Turkish “Strategic Depth” is still relevant or not in the MENA region.

Analysis

Conceptualization of Davutoglu’s theories

In order to understand Davutoglu’s theories one must analyze his concepts about state’s power, evaluation of pre-AKP foreign policy, historical depth and geopolitics, which are the basic elements of Turkish foreign policy based on Strategic Depth, measured by zero problem policy, proactive diplomacy multidimensional policy (which I will be talking about in the part of implementation). Ahmet Davutoglu defines state’s power as the central input of international politics; therefore he determines the parameters of power; stable and potential[28]. Stable parameters are the unchangeable factors as; history, geography, population and culture. Potential parameters are changeable variables; economic, technological and military capacities of the countries. When these variables areefficiently used, a country’s influence in power-balances of international politics increases[29]. Therefore we can realize that Turkey enjoys these powers mostly cultural, economic, military, history, geography and so on, which makes it easier to have influence on other countries in the region.

Davutoglu evaluated and criticized the foreign policies of pre-AKP’s governments; he argues that short-termed coalition governments have generally blockaded to build a long-termed strategic planning and ignored the parameters of the state powers. Moreover, quick changes in the political arena will lead to lack of communication and coordination between the bureaucratic staff and the political authorities.  He adds that Kemalist and Turkey’s militaristic bureaucratic isolationist foreign policy isolated Turkey from its natural cultural, historical and geographic space[30].

Furthermore, Turkey enjoys historical and geopolitical depth; the country was established on the historical and geopolitical ground of the Ottoman state[31]. Turkey’s problems with identity might be covered as an extension of the problems with its historical background. Therefore during the Kemalist period, Turkey did alienate not only to its surrounding regions but also its own history.Turkey is an outcome of a long-dated Ottoman history, not anewly discovered or a foreign formation with no history. However, after Ottoman disintegration “it emerged as a mono-religious country with a high majority, despiteits abstraction from whole historical religious symbols and responsibilities[32]. But due to the Cold war struggle and Western influence, Turkey has adopted a static geopolitical stance with a mono-dimensional foreign policy perspective. Davutoglu argues that Turkey is the natural heir to the Ottoman Empire that once unified the Muslim world and therefore has the potential to become a “Muslim super power”. Such geo-strategic vision reflects the newly-acquired self-confidence on the part of the AKP, which is supportive of a more proactive foreign policy[33].  Furthermore he stresses that Turkey should use its “soft power” and promote peace, democracy, protect human rights and encourage free market in its neighboring countries.

The process of implementation

 

Mainly two factors pushed Turkey to engage a foreign policy in the MENA region, the Kurdish issue and the economy. Turks opposed the US lead invasion on Iraq, not because they had love towards Saddam Hussein, but they were worried from emergence of a Kurdish state. Turkey was worried that Saddam’s overthrow will fragment Iraq and strengthen Kurdish nationalism, as Iraqi Kurdistan became autonomous, Turkey feared from Kurdish separatist movements in its southern border, thereby jeopardizing Turkey’s security and territorial integrity. Like Turkey, Iran and Syria faced the same problem too, since these two countries have Kurdish minorities which challenged the state. Relations have significantly improved between Turkey and the other two countries, due to the three governments’ shared interest in containing Kurdish nationalism and preventing the emergence of independent Kurdistan on their borders[34]. In July 2004, Turkey and Iran signed security cooperation agreement to fight against Kurdish separatist movements. The Syrian-Turkish relations were also driven by Damascus’ growing concern over the threat of Kurdish nationalism. In 1998 Turkey and Syria were at an undeclared war, since Damascus was supporting the PKK. As Syria realized that it can’t open another front on its northern border, obliged it signed with Ankara the Adana accord, which declared PKK a terrorist organization and stated that its camps in the Bekaa Valley would be closed, and Ocalan would never again be permitted to enter Syria[35]. Syria’s president Bashar al-Assad paid a remarkable visit to Turkey at 2004 where he ensured Turkey that Syria would not tolerate PKK activities in its soil that threatens Turkey’s territorial integrity[36].

Regions inhabited by Kurds

Regions inhabited by Kurds

After the financial crisis in EU, Turkey turned towards the East and engaged in trade and economic agreements with its historical rivals; Iran, Iraq, KRG (Kurdistan Regional Government) and Syria. For instance, the EU’s share in Turkish foreign trade declined from 53.63% in 2003 to less than 42% in 2010. Whereas Asia’s and Middle East’s share increased from 18.8% and 8.51% to almost 30% and 13% in the same period. [37]Also cross-border trade with Syria and northern Iraq grew rapidly and gave a major boost to the local economy in southeast Turkey, which has long been the most under-developed region of the country. Today Turkey is the world’s 16th largest economy[38].In the graph figure 1, we realize that after 2002 the Turkish exports have increased in the Arab world and overcame on the imports; this proves that as AKP took power, its economic policies succeeded with the neighboring Arab countries.

The legal framework of economic relations was strengthened with the Free Trade Agreement, mutual abolishment of the visas and completion of several bilateral agreements[39].In 2010, Turkey established a visa-free zone with Syria, Iran, Lebanon and Jordan.Figure 1

Figure 1

AKP’s vision of expanding its influence through strong trade relations with Middle Eastern countries was supported by an army of umbrella organizations comprising Turkish investors, businessmen, and company officials. In 2011, the trade volume with Iran reached its peak to 15 billion $[40].Coming to Iraq, more than 70% of the overall Iraqi-Turkish trade exchange of about USD$12 billion is actually between Turkey and Kurdistan Region[41]. Turkey also increased its investment in Iraqi Kurdistan region.With Syria the trade volume reached to4 billion dollars (2010) from 800 million dollars (2002)as a result of the free trade agreement between the two countries[42].

Now as I talked about the factors that pushed this foreign policy, I will introduce how the zero-problem, proactive diplomacy and multidimensional policy were implemented with Turkey’s neighbors. The “zero problem policy” was to some extend successfully implemented with Syria, relations entered to a new stage in 2005. Political and economic cooperation grew ever stronger. The September 2009 decision to reciprocally lift the visa requirement for tourist visits was a rare move in the region which had a very positive effect on public opinion of both countries. While Syrian president Bashar al-Assad declared: “We have together shifted from an atmosphere of distrust to trust”[43]. In April 2009, the two countries held joint military exercises.  In addition Turkey via Syria strengthened her relations with Hariri’s party in Lebanon.Syria had become what one expert called “the model success story for Turkey’s improved foreign policy”[44]. During the same period, relations with Iran grew too, Turkey started to defend Iran’s “peaceful” nuclear program, and started to critisize Israel’s nuclear program. Turkey and Iran started to collaborate on many regional issues starting from Iraq till Palestine and Lebanon.The emerging Turkey-Syria-Iran axis had worried Israel[45]. The Gulf States were also trying to figure out what impact it may have on their security. Turkey also tried to play a peacekeeping role in the region and developed a proactive foreign policy.  By volunteering to engage in so many mediation efforts, AKP aimed to increase its visibility in the world. In 2006, Turkey sent about 1000 peacekeepers to south Lebanon. Turkey played a facilitator role in the nuclear issue between Iran and the UNSC + Germany.It also attempted to make a peace deal between Syria and Israel in 2008, but it was halted after Israel’s war on Gaza. Moreover, it played a mediating role between the two Palestinian factions Hamas and Fateh.Finally Turkey developed a multidimensional foreign policy; hence the Turkish government organized training program for 350 Iraqi politicians from various political parties and helped different Iraqi parties to agree with each other[46]. “I’m neither a Shiite nor a Sunni; I’m a Muslim”, Erdogan said in his July 2008 visit to Iraq. Turkey’s popularity not only grew in the Sunni street but also in the Shiit, where Erdogan attracted the support of the Shiites in Lebanon and in 2010, the Hazbulla party leader HasanNasralla declared that Erdogan is a Muslim hero.

PM Erdogan welcoming Syrian president Bashar al-Assad

PM Erdogan welcoming Syrian president Bashar al-Assad

We can’t ignore that Turkish foreign policy brought economic prosperity in the region, the historical rivalry between Syria, Iran and Turkey was removed within few years, AKP played clever moved and filled the Arab vacuum regarding the Palestinian cause, during 2010 streets in Beirut, Damascus and Gaza were colored by Turkish flags and Erdogan’s picture. Turkey’s “peacekeeping” face was also in rise in the region, though the Syrian-Israeli negotiations failed but Turkey won a credit that it tries to promote peace in the region. Furthermore, Turkey not just won the support of the Sunnis, but also the Shiites and some Christians. Therefore we can conclude that Turkey’s “Strategic Depth” during this period of time (before the Arab Uprisings) was successful to some extent, although there were some deficiencies since Turkey did not promote democracy or human rights, it only criticized Israel’s violations while ignored the violations done by Turkey’s neighbors in the region.

 

Reevaluating the Turkish Foreign Policy

In order to reevaluate Turkish foreign policy one should counter argue Davutoglu’s claims (Turkish foreign policy promoted human rights and democracy in neighboring countries), and argue that relations between Turkey and its neighbors were not based on liberal and democratic values, insteadthey were based on economic and political interests. In order to prove my point I will provide examples of Iran, Syria and Sudan.

Erdogan was among the first leaders who gave legitimacy to the Iranian president AhmadiNajad by congratulating him upon his fraudulent and bloodstained election in June 2009[47]. A question here one may ask that why Turkey didn’t criticize the crackdown of peaceful demonstrations in Tehran? In addition while the Syrian intelligence units were kidnapping and imprisoning the opposition members, Assad and Erdogan with their wives were in vacation in Bodrum. Moreover, while the Sudani army was committing genocide in Darfur, Erdogan was defending Omar al Bashir and claiming “no Muslim state can commit genocide”[48]. Therefore Turkey has never made democracy a priority in its relations. Were these events providing any signs of democracy and human rights?

As Arab Uprisings erupted it was clear that Turkey was in front of two choices; “zero-problem with neighbors” or “zero-problem with regimes”. What were the costs of these uprisings? The costs of the Tunisian and Egyptian uprisings have been limited primarily because of the relatively small size of mutual economic relations. By contrast, the Libyan and the Syrian uprisings shock the Turkish foreign policy; Libya was a critical economic partner while Syria was the new foreign policy’s much touted “success” case[49]. Both of these demonstrated, not surprisingly perhaps, the extent to which the new Turkish policy was vested in the authoritarian regimes of the region. Moreover, the Arab Uprising is greatly affecting Shi’ism, and particularly Turkey’s regional competitor, Iran.

As the Tunisians went to the streets, Turkey was one of the first country’s that supported the protesters against the regime, without noticing that soon a domino effect will start. In Tunisia, Erdogan advocated the Turkish model of governance, he said that Islam and democracy were compatible and that Turkish secularism guarantees equality for the people of all beliefs and none[50]. In Egypt, Erdogan and Mubarak had never agreed on many issues, starting with Gaza. Moreover, the Egyptian regime perceived that the Turks were trying to muscle into regional politics specifically in areas historically considered being part of the traditional Egyptian sphere of influence[51]. Mubarak viewed Turkey as a competitor for influence in the region. He ultimately remained distant to the AKP leadership due to their Islamist roots[52]. As the Egyptian uprising broke up, Turkey was an early cheerleader; Erdogan called Hosni Mubarak to resign on February 2, 2011[53]. Therefore we can conclude that in Egypt, the strategic rivalry between Turkey and Mubarak’s regime and the absence of large Turkish investments pushed Turkey to support the movement in Tahrir square. But things didn’t go well in Egypt since the idea that Turkey could be a model for Egyptian democracy has been rejected. Even though Turkey does have ties with the Muslim Brotherhood, Egyptians are insisting that they can build their own model[54]. Lately Egypt tried to bring Fatah and Hamas together to form a unity government, something that Erdogan’s government promised long ago and failed to achieve.

In Libya, not only was the Turkish prime minister a personal recipient of the Qaddafi International Prize for Human Rights, but the presence of25,000 Turkish workers in Libya and the backlog of the construction projects worth $15 billion were certainly part of Ankara’s calculation[55]. On February 28, 2011 Erdogan declared “NATO’s intervention in Libya is out of question. We are against such thing”[56].It was only after finding itself isolated and surprised by anti-Turkish demonstrations in the rebel capital Benghazi that the Turkish leadership, in a serious of quick policy shifts, agreed to participate in NATO operations and demanded Qaddafi’s resignation[57].

As the Syrian uprising started to shape itself, Turkish government tried to give advices to the Syrian regime to make reforms and avoid bloodshed but as the crackdown of the protesters continued, Turkey shifted its policy and openly supported the Syrian opposition and its rebel army.AKP tries to be opportunistic; hoping the end of the Alawite regime in Syria provides an opportunity for a like-minded Islamist regime to come to power next door. Turkey is not only moving away from the Assad regime, but it’s looking to help organize its opposition on its territory[58]. On the other hand, Turkey has fears too,Alawits make up about 15% of the population in Turkey, while in Hatay province they make about half the population[59].If Syria enters into sectarian civil war, nowhere in Turkey would feel it more than Hatay, where Assad has a large number of supporters there. In addition this may reflect on Turkey’s domestic politics, where the country’s main opposition party, Republican People’s Party (CHP), whose leader is an Alawite, strongly criticized AKP’s policies towards Syria and declared that the Republicans support Assad’s secular regime in Syria[60].Lately French daily Le Figaro reported that Assad is aiming to destabilize Turkey by seeking to grant greater autonomy to the Kurdish population that live in the north-east of Syria[61]. Turkey is worried that the emergence of a Syrian Kurdistan will endanger its territorial integrity and will trigger the Turkish Kurds to rise up. That’s why some Turkish officials raised up the idea of creating a buffer zone on the Turkish-Syrian border in order to support the Free Syrian Army, ensure the safety of the refugees and avoid any PKK attacks.

In the personal interview that I did with Idrees Mohammed, asking about the usage of the “PKK Card” by Syria against Turkey, told me:

“There is possibility of the ‘PKK-ization’ of the Kurdish issue by Syria, and Turkish senior politicians have warned Syria not to use the Kurdish card. There is generally-agreed realization that the usage of the Kurdish card against Turkey to a certain degree is extremely dangerous game to play and would have unintended consequences”[62].

Yes, the consequences are dangerous because Turkey may invoke the 1998 Adana Agreement with Syria (where Syria claimed that it would not allow any activity from its territory that would threaten the “security and stability of Turkey”), and justify the military interference while calling NATO members of the application of the Article 5 of the NATO Charter, which says that an attack on any member shall be considered to be an attack on all[63].Therefore as the Syrian crisis escalates, it’s clear that Turkey will not remain silent and will take an action, an action that may also endangers Turkey and creates a conflict with its regional rival Iran.

The Arab Uprising has flamed the ideological and political tension between Turkey and Iran. Last year, Iranian officials claimed that the “Arab revolutions” were inspired by the Iranian revolution and would usher in similar governments. Though in Tunisia and Egypt, for the first time leading figures in mainstream Islamist parties have won elections, ignored an Iranian type of theocratic regime and preferred something similar to the “Turkish model”[64]. Turkey and Iran, who only recently appeared to be forging a close friendship, now, find themselves on opposite sides of conflicts in Syria, Iraq, and Bahrain, and Turkey’s decision to host a NATO missile shield turned the table upside down. But to assume that these tensions will lead to a complete breakdown in the Turkey-Iran relationship is very naive[65]. In Syria, Turkey has abandoned its close friendship with President Assad, and is supporting the opposition-Syrian National Council, the Syrian Muslim Brotherhood and the Free Syrian Army. The Iranian regime would be put into further isolationif a pro-Western, Turkish-friendly, government comes in Syria. This is why it remains loyal to the Assad regime, and continues to provide arms and financial assistance, and agreed to fund a $23 million military base at Lattakia airport in Syria[66].In Iraq, Iran openly supported the Shi’a Dawa party of Prime Minister Nuri Kamal al-Maliki in the 2010 parliamentary elections, while Turkey was accused of siding with the Sunni faction by supporting the pan-Arab Iraqqiyacoalition of AyadAllawi. The clash between Turkey and Iran was clear in Iraq. On January 2012, Turkish Prime Minister Erdogan warned his Iraqi counterpart, Nouri al-Maliki, and his Shi’it-led government, that Ankara would not remain silent if he pursued a sectarian conflict in his country. A war of words started between the two neighbors. In an interview with al-Hurra television, Maliki said: “Turkey is unfortunately playing a role which may lead to disaster and civil war in the region, and Turkey itself will suffer because it has different sects and ethnicities”[67].Turkey and Iran have also had competing interests in Bahrain, where Iran supported the protestors (mainly Shi’as),while Turkey has come out in support of the Sunni al-Khalifa monarchy with whom it hopes to pursue closer economic ties (In this case Turkey, is in the hypocritical position of opposing democratic change). In November 2011, shortly after Turkey agreed to host an early warning radar as part of NATO’s missile defense system, General Amir Ali Hajizadeh, the head of the Iranian Revolutionary Guards’ aerospace division, stated that “should we be threatened, we will target NATO’s missile defense shield in Turkey and then hit the next targets.” Ali-Akbar, senior adviser to Iranian Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, argued that Turkey’s model of “secular Islam” was a version of western liberal democracy and unacceptable for countries going through an “Islamic awakening.”[68]

After Tehran’s suggestion that it preferred not to meet in Istanbul, Erdogan’s tone changed sharply. “We have to be honest. Because of the lack of honesty they (the Iranians) are continually losing their international prestige,” he told reporters[69]. Iran met with the Western diplomats in Baghdad and not in Istanbul as usual, to negotiate about its nuclear program.Turkey lost an important role, as a result announced it would reduce oil imports from Iran by 20 percent[70]. Turkey is also concerned about the possibility that Iran may develop nuclear weapons. A nuclear-armed Iran would undermine regional balance and stability, and pose problems for Turkish foreign policy andits regional ambitions[71].

A Turkish-Armenian columnist, MarkarEsayan, interprets Iran’s “evil” message to Turkey as follows:

“To Turkey, you have a dominant role in the uprisings in Syria, which is an indispensable ally to us in the region. If you try to put pressure on Syria or start an operation against the Syrian regime, we [Iran] will be strongly involved in the game with the PKK. In regards to the PKK issue, we are capable of capturing its leader and eliminating its activities; but we are also capable of making it grow… If you give up on Syria, we will deal with the PKK together; otherwise, we will become allies with the PKK.”[72]

Conclusion

Davutoglu said that what was essential in Turkey’s foreign policy was not strategic interest but principles, the value Turkey gives to human life, but one may ask himself that where was Turkey before the Arab Uprising was? Why Turkey wasn’t promoting democracy and human rights.Although Erdogan’s and AKP’s popularity grew in the Arab street after the events of Mavi Marmara flotilla and before it the debate between Erdogan and Israeli president Shimon Peres in World Economic forum, but all these events sidelined Turkey from the Middle East peace process, Turkey by criticizing Israel lost an important card in the Middle East peace process.

Protesters hold Palestinian and Turkish flags during a rally to denouncing Israel's attack on an aid ship bound for Gaza in New York, Tuesday, June 1, 2010.  (AP Photo/Seth Wenig)

Protesters hold Palestinian and Turkish flags during a rally to denouncing Israel’s attack on an aid ship bound for Gaza in New York, Tuesday, June 1, 2010. (AP Photo/Seth Wenig)

The Turks vigorously played the role of the leader of the Muslim world. But now that the Muslim world is deeply engaged in a growing proxy war along the Shia-Sunni fault line and Turkey has found itself in a Sunni alliance, it will have to be content with playing the role of the leader of one Muslim sect only. That’s a much smaller cake, but one cannot pretend to be all things at all times. In addition Turkish foreign policy was never based on ties with the people. Rather it was based on ties with regimes, regimes willing to act with ruthlessness to suppress citizens demanding rights. In shaping its policy in the Arab Middle East, Turkey had worked to build a network of stable relationships with the existing regimes. Now confronted with regimes that have come under popular challenges, it finds itself in a difficult situation. Therefore is Turkish “Strategic Depth” still relevant in the MENA region? Before the Arab Uprising Turkish foreign policy or “Strategic Depth” was successful to some extent, although it didn’t promote democracy but it did encourage free market and economic prosperity, furthermore, Turkey engaged in peace process and mediated between rivals and tried to avoid sectarianism. But as the Arab Uprising broke, it was clear that Turkey’s zero problem, proactive diplomacy and multidimensional policy failed, since zero problem policy was established with regimes and not the people, proactive diplomacy failed after Turkey distanced itself from Israel and lately Iran, and multidimensional policy failed too after Turkey found itself in a Sunni camp against the Shiits in the region. Therefore the “Strategic depth” is somehow not relevant, it well be relevant only when Turkey starts to put human rights and democracy above its national and economic interests.

Yeghig Tashjian

Bibliography:

Books:

-Kinzer, Stephan. “Reset Middle East”,L.B. Tauris& Co Ltd, 2011

– Friedman, George, “The Next 100 Years”, Stratfor, 2009

Journals:

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Websites:

Aktes, Gulbahar. “Turkish Foreign Policy: New Concepts and Reflections” Middle East and Technical University, December 2010, http://etd.lib.metu.edu.tr/upload/12612869/index.pdf

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Online personal interview:

 

-Online personal interview done with Idrees Mohammed, a specialist in Turkish foreign policy in the region and the Kurdish issue, 4/5/2012


[1]Davutoglu, in his book “The Strategic Depth: Turkey’s international position”, published in 2001, argues that Turkey is an outcome of a long-dated Ottoman history, not a newly discovered country with no history; hence Turkey must use its Ottoman past in order to overcome the conflicts in the region based on Turkey’s geographic and political positions.

[2]Aktes, Gulbahar. “Turkish Foreign Policy: New Concepts and Reflections” Middle East and Technical University, December 2010, http://etd.lib.metu.edu.tr/upload/12612869/index.pdf , accessed 26/3/2012

[3] Ibid. p 64

[4] Ibid. p 65

[5]Aktes, Gulbahar. “Turkish Foreign Policy: New Concepts and Reflections” Middle East and Technical University, December 2010, http://etd.lib.metu.edu.tr/upload/12612869/index.pdf , accessed 26/3/2012

[6]Aktes, Gulbahar. “Turkish Foreign Policy: New Concepts and Reflections” Middle East and Technical University, December 2010, http://etd.lib.metu.edu.tr/upload/12612869/index.pdf , accessed 26/3/2012

[7] Ibid. 78

[8]Aktes, Gulbahar. “Turkish Foreign Policy: New Concepts and Reflections” Middle East and Technikal University, December 2010, http://etd.lib.metu.edu.tr/upload/12612869/index.pdf , accessed 26/3/2012

[9] Ibid. 82

[10] Ibid. 82

[11] Ibid. 83

[12]Walker, Joshua. “Architect of Power”, The Journal of International Security Affairs, Spring 2010, no 18,http://www.securityaffairs.org/issues/2010/18/walker.php, accessed in 11/4/2012

[13] Ibid.

[14] Friedman, George, “The Next 100 Years”, Stratfor, 2009, p.82

[15]Onis, Ziya. “Multiple Faces of the “New” Turkish Foreign Policy: Underlying Dynamics and a Critique”, GLODEM working paper series, 4/2010, http://glodem.ku.edu.tr/10_004.pdf, accessed 10/3/2012

[16] “Turkey-Iran Economic and Trade Relation”, http://www.mfa.gov.tr/sub.en.mfa?f460c1eb-1d2c-4ae9-9807-d88c1eac7af8

[17] “Turkey-Syria Economic and Trade Relation”, http://www.mfa.gov.tr/turkeys-commercial-and-economic-relations-with-syria.en.mfa.

[18] Mohammad, Fryad. “Most OF Turkey-Iraq US$12 billion trade exchange in Kurdistan: minister”, January 19, 2010, http://www.aknews.com/en/aknews/2/285281/, accessed 22/4/2012

[19]Larrabee, Stephen. Foreign affairs, Vol. 86, No.4 (July-August, 2007) pp.103-114

[20]Barkey Henry; “Turkish Foreign Policy and the Middle East”. No 10. June 6, 2011

[21]Policy of Zero Problems with our Neighbors, http://ww.mfa.gov.tr/policy-of-zaeo-problems-with-our-neighbors.en.mfa

[22]Oguzlu, Tarik; “The Davutoglu Period in Turkish Foreign Policy”, ORSAM, vol. 1, no. 9, September 2009.

[23]“Turkey and the Arab Spring: Strategic Depth becomes strategic abyss”, http://www.hurriyetdailynews.com/default.aspx?pageid=438&n=turkey-and-the-arab-spring-strategic-depth-becomes-strategic-abyss-2011-05-15  , accessed 11/4/2012

[24]Ozturk, Merve. “Will the Syrian civil war spill over into Turkey?”, http://www.todayszaman.com/columnist-277167-will-the-syrian-civil-war-spill-over-into-turkey.html, accessed 20/4/2012

[26]Zaaiter, Haifa. “Turkey: The Death of ‘Zero Problems’ Foreign Policy”,14/2/2012,http://www.almonitor.com/cms/contents/articles/politics/2012/02/for-these-reasons-turkey-renounc.html, accessed 20/4/2012

[27]Idress Mohammad, “Turkey and Iran rivalry on Syria”, Turkish journal of international relations, vol. 10 no. 2-3, summer-fall 2011

[28]Aydin, Mustafa; “Determinants of Turkish Foreign Policy: Historical Framework and Traditional

Inputs”, Middle Eastern Studies, Vol.35, No.4, 1999, p.165.

[29]Aktes, Gulbahar. “Turkish Foreign Policy: New Concepts and Reflections” Middle East and Technical University, December 2010, http://etd.lib.metu.edu.tr/upload/12612869/index.pdf , accessed 26/3/2012

[30]Altunisik, Meliha B.; “The Possibilities and Limits of Turkey’s Soft Power in the Middle

East”, Insight Turkey, Vol.10, No.2, 2008, p.47.

[31]Davutoglu, Ahmet; “Turkey’s Foreign Policy Vision: An Assessment of 2007 ”, Insight

Turkey, Vol.10, No.1, 2008.

[32] ‘The ‘‘Strategic Depth’’ that Turkey Needs’, Interview with AhmetDavutoglu, The Turkish Daily

News, 15 September 2001.

[33] Walker W. Joshua, “Architect of Power”,http://www.securityaffairs.org/issues/2010/18/walker.php ,11/4/2012

[34]Larrabee, Stephan. “Turkey Rediscovers the Middle East”, http://www.foreignaffairs.com/articles/62649/f-stephen-larrabee/turkey-rediscovers-the-middle-east, 14/4/2012

[35]Akyol, Mustafa. “Turkey vs. Iran”, http://www.foreignaffairs.com/articles/137343/mustafa-akyol/turkey-vs-iran, 14/4/2012

[36] Aras, Damla, “Turkish-Syrian Relations Go Downhill”, Middle East Quarterly, Spring 2012, pp. 41-50

[37]Onis, Ziya. “Multiple Faces of the New Turkish Foreign Policy: Underlying Dynamics and Critique”, Insight Turkey, Vol. 13, No. 1, 2011, pp. 47-65.

[38]Barkey, Henry. “Turkish Foreign Policy and the Middle East”, Science Pro, no 10, 6 June 2011

[40] “Turkey-Iran Economic and Trade Relations”, http://tehrantimes.com/opinion/96788-a-chill-in-iranian-turkish-relations ,14/4/2012

[41] Mohammed, Fryad. “Most of Turkey-Iraq US$12 billion trade exchange in Kurdistan: minister”,http://www.aknews.com/en/aknews/2/285281/ , 15/4/2012

[43]Aras, Bulent. “From Conflict to Cooperation: Desecuritization of Turkey’s relations with Syria and Iran”, Sep 11, 2008

[44]Barkey, Henry. “Assad Stands Alone”, The National Interest, June 14, 2011

[45]Kinzer, Stephan. “Reset Middle East”,L.B. Tauris& Co Ltd, 2011,pp. 197-199

[46]Aras, Bulent. “Davutoglu Era in Turkish Foreign Policy”, SETA Foundation, 30 June 2009

[47]Svante E. Cornell, “Iranian Crisis Catches the Turkish Government off Guard,” Turkish Analyst, June 19, 2009

[48] “Erdogan Defends al-Bashir, Says Muslims Incapable of Genocide”, http://asbarez.com/73093/erdogan-defends-al-bashir-says-muslims-incapable-of-genocide/,   4/5/2012

[49]Barkey Henri, “Turkish Foreign Policy and the Middle East”, CERI Strategic papers, No 10, June 6, 2011

[50]Stuard Hannah, “Turkey and the Arab Spring”, The Henry Jackson Society, October 2011.

[51] Ibid.

[52]UlgenSinan, “Recovery From the Age of Discovery”, Carnegue, July 27,2011

[53]Cornell Svante, “Changes in Turkey; What Drives Turkish Foreign Policy?”, Middle East Quarterly, Winter 2012, p.21

[55]UlgenSinan, “Recovery From the Age of Discovery”, Carnegue, July 27,2011

[56] Cook Steven, “Arab Spring, Turkish Fall”, http://www.foreignpolicy.com/articles/2011/05/05/arab_spring_turkish_fall?page=full, 5/3/2012

[57]Barkey Henri, “Turkish Foreign Policy and the Middle East”, CERI Strategic papers, No 10, June 6, 2011

[58]Schenker David, Turkey’s shift on Syria gives West room to get tougher on Assad, http://www.csmonitor.com/Commentary/Opinion/2011/0609/Turkey-s-shift-on-Syria-gives-West-room-to-get-tougher-on-Assad, 11/4/2012

[59] “In one of Turkey’s most religiously diverse provinces, close ties with Syria fuel support for Assad regime”, http://www.pro.org/stories/world/middle-east/in-one-of-turkey-s-most-religiously-diverse-provinces-close-ties-with-syria-fuel-support-for-assad-regime-9308.html , 11/4/2012

[60]BaydarYavuz, “The Syrian nightmare”, http://www.todayszaman.com/columnist-277034-the-syrian-nightmare.html, 11/4/2012

[61] Al-TamimiAymenn, “Syria, Turkey and the Kurds”, http://www.meforum.org/3100/syria-turkey-kurds, 12/12/2011

[62] Online personal interview done with Idrees Mohammed, a specialist in Turkish foreign policy in the region  and the Kurdish issue, 4/5/2012

[63] Weiss Michel, “Is Turkey preparing for an intervention in Syria?”, http://blogs.telegraph.co.uk/news/michaelweiss/100150309/is-turkey-preparing-for-an-intervention-in-syria/, 11/4/2012

[65] Mohammed Idrees, Turkey and Iran Rivalry on Syria, Alternatives Turkish Journal of International Relations, Vol. 10, No. 2-3, Summer-Fall 2011

[66] Con Coughlin, “Iran Agrees to Fund Syrian Military Base”, The Telegram, 12 August, 2011, http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/worldnews/middleeast/iran/8699077/Iran-agrees-to-fund-Syrian-military-base.html

[67] “Iraqi PM Slams Turkey’s ‘interference’ ”,http://www.presstv.ir/detail/221333.html, 17/2/2012

[68] McCurdy Daphne, Danforth Nick, “Turkey and Iran: A Fraying Relationship or Business as Usual?”,http://mideast.foreignpolicy.com/posts/2012/02/28/turkey_and_iran_a_fraying_relationship_or_business_as_usual?hidecomments=yes, 11/4/2012

[69] Jacques N. Couvas Cold Spring Forecast in Iran-Turkey Relations, http://ipsnews.net/news.asp?idnews=107352 ,11/4/2012

[70] Ibid

[71]UlgenSinan, “Recovery From the Age of Discovery”, Carnegie, July 27,2011

[72]MarkarEsayan, “Iran Pulls the PKK Card”, http://www.todayszaman.com/columnist-253915-iran-pulls-the-pkk-card.html, 16 August, 2011

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