Turkey’s affiliations are swinging from West to East.
February 10, 2010 1 Comment
Turkey’s affiliations under the leadership of the Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan — a devout Muslim — are swinging from West to East. This is good news for the Arab world as Ankara is a major political and military player on the international stage with substantial clout. In recent times, Turkey has thawed the freeze with Syria by signing a slew of economic, cultural, social and strategic cooperation agreements and is mulling over lifting visa restrictions for Syrian and Lebanese nationals.
At the same time, Turkey is reaching out to Armenia by setting up a commission to study the World War I conflict that robbed the lives of over a million Ottoman-Armenians. Last October, Ankara and Yerevan signed protocols designed to establish ties that would result in the reopening of their border but the main sticking point is Armenia’s insistence that Turkey and the international community officially recognize the Armenian genocide. Turkey has always resisted that damning label and always insisted that those who died were casualties of conflict.
Simultaneously, the Erdogan government is cementing relations with Russia with trade and energy agreements; Russia currently supplies around 65 percent of Turkey’s natural gas requirements and may assist Turkey with the construction of a nuclear energy plant. This new closeness has resulted in plans to extend cooperation to the South Caucasus — traditionally within Russia’s sphere of influence — as well as visa-free travel for the citizens of both nations.
Likewise, Ankara currently enjoys good relations with Tehran. Earlier this month, Iranian Foreign Minister Manouchehr Mottaki held talks in Ankara with Prime Minister Erdogan involving the transportation of Iranian natural gas to Europe via Turkey, establishing a joint refinery, jointly constructing industrial centers and increasing bilateral trade from $10 billion annually to $30 billion. The Turkish minister of state said Turkey is keen to begin a “golden age” in Turkish-Iranian ties. While Turkey is against nuclear proliferation in the Middle East, it backs Iran’s right to nuclear energy and does not support anti-Iranian sanctions.
But there the love fest ends. Ankara’s relations with some of its traditional allies are strained to say the least.
Its important strategic alliance with Washington, which culminated in America’s Incirlik Air base was shaken when the US invaded Iraq in 2003. Turkey was against the Iraq war from the get-go and blames it for strengthening Kurdish secessionist ambitions. And when, in 2007, the US House Committee on Foreign Affairs passed a resolution in favor of Armenia’s stance on the alleged “genocide,” Turkey temporarily withdrew its ambassador from Washington.
However, for its part, the US government tends to tread softly with Turkey in light of its NATO role as a strong eastern bulwark and its hosting of Incirlik which was a crucial asset during the Cold War and the 1991 Gulf War. Turkey’s importance to Washington was reflected by President Barack Obama’s official visit, last April — criticized within some US circles as blessing a country embarked on establishing a powerful Islamic bloc contrary to American interests. The US has also fervently backed Turkey’s efforts to join the EU, which has been somewhat of an annoyance to European countries that are vehemently opposed. Linda Heard